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There’s one point in the death penalty debate on which both sides agree: The death penalty system is broken.
Those who support the death penalty say that it provides closure for the victim’s families and gives the strongest sentences to those guilty of the worst crimes. Those who oppose it say it risks executing innocent people and wastes taxpayer money.
There are two measures on the ballot this November that could reshape the system entirely.
Voting yes on Proposition 62 is a vote to repeal the death penalty and make life without parole the maximum punishment. A yes vote on Proposition 66 would keep and even speed up the death penalty process.
If both propositions were to pass, the one with the most yes votes would overrule the other.
Despite the previous years of support in California, no supporters of the death penalty took Voice of San Diego up on its invitation to Politifest.
Two vocal opponents were on hand, however – and they had a lot to say.
Alex Simpson, the associate director of the California Innocence Project, said the death penalty system is “fundamentally wrong.”
John Cotsirilos, lawyer and University of San Diego law professor called it a “dysfunctional system.”
Simpson criticized death penalty supporters’ desire to get the entire process done as fast as possible.
“You want something done quickly, you want something done cheaply, and you want something done correctly,” Simpson said.
He doesn’t believe all three factors can actually happen without executing an innocent person.
A “yes” on Proposition 66 speeds up the appeals process from the current 25 years to only 5 years. Simpson said this was problematic because it takes the Innocence Project at least 15 years to reverse a wrongful conviction and even more if the person is convicted of murder.
Cotsirilos mentioned four innocent people who were executed, including Cameron Willingham, a father who was accused of a house fire that killed his children.
“There’s about a 4 percent error rate in our courts and that’s human error rate that you’re dealing with,” Cotsirilos said. “Simply human fallibility.”
If we applied this percentage to the 700-plus people sitting on death row, it would mean about 30 of them are wrongfully accused, he said.
“If [Proposition 66] works the way that it’s supposed to work, then you are guaranteed to execute a person that didn’t do it,” Simpson said.