Guest opinion: Lining up against the death penalty
A recent news report said that the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office soon will make a decision whether or not to seek the death penalty for a homicide crime committed last June at the Hillsdale Shopping Center.
Without discussing the innocence or guilt of the accused, I hope that the DA's office will not seek this penalty.
In 2004, the state Senate established the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice; it completed its work in 2008. (Earlier, the Board of Supervisors approved a resolution supporting the study of the state's criminal justice system.) Although the commission did not make a specific recommendation on the abolition or continuation of the death penalty, this bipartisan commission did state emphatically in its final report that the death penalty "...system is broken..." in California.
As of Dec. 27, 2010, there are 722 death sentences in California, 15 of them from San Mateo County. There is no need for San Mateo County to add to this list, given the commission's conclusion, and the increasing number of states studying and abolishing the death penalty. The political climate on the death penalty changed notably in the last California general election.
For example, in his prior governorship, newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown appointed local resident Rose Bird chief justice of the Supreme Court, despite her staunch opposition to the death penalty. Unfortunately she was recalled, due mainly to the failure of many individuals (including this writer) to rally to her defense.
Bird's recall is overshadowed by the election of Kamala Harris as attorney general, the state's top law enforcement officer. It is well known that Ms. Harris is quite firm in her opposition to the death penalty. Some might comment that this is to be expected, in that she is in alignment with the progressive political profile of the city and county of San Francisco. It should not go unnoticed, however, that Ms. Harris defeated — in a slightly conservative statewide election — Steve Cooley, the DA of Los Angeles, who is fiercely pro-death penalty.
The point is that the district attorney should not be unduly concerned about his re-election if he does not seek the death sentence now, or in the future.
Henry Organ lives on Euclid Avenue in Menlo Park.