Law Review: Porter’s take on the death penalty

Betty Q. Hixson


I have this nagging need to share my opinion once again. If I ever write a book it should be titled: “Everyone is Entitled to My Opinion.” As much as I want to say to the really bad guys: “pay the price: hang, fry or take your lethal injection,” I don’t believe the criminal justice system is well served by killing convicted criminals. Governor Gavin must agree as he abolished the death penalty in California a couple of years ago by executive order.


In the 19th century, hanging was the preferred method of executing criminals in this Country. In the early 1900s, electrocution was the way to go — so to speak.

In the 1970s, state legislators moved away from electrocution and now most states that have the death penalty have adopted lethal injection. The most recent attempts at lethal injection have been badly botched. Finding companies willing to make the lethal three-drug combination for executions is nearly impossible.

California outlawed gas chambers in 1995. Last I read, two states still allow hanging and Idaho allows death by firing squad. That was a couple of years ago so hopefully the firing squad is disarmed.


A few years ago, a federal district court judge denounced California’s dysfunctional death penalty system. The judge’s decision was loaded with statistics. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, only 13 have been executed. Recently California had 632 people on its death row.

For convicted criminals that challenge the state’s death sentence, which is every single one of them, the process takes over 20 years. More than 40% of California’s death row inmates have been in limbo longer than 19 years. Some have commented that death row is expensive senior housing.


I understand the biblical an-eye-for-an-eye. I also understand the knee-jerk response: “Put them away.” Sacramento’s gang-related downtown mass shooting comes to mind. But at what cost?

A recent Los Angeles Times study found that California execution cases, when all costs are considered, exceeds $250 million each – with average delay from conviction to execution, should there ever be an execution – of 20 years. It’s probably more than 20 years.

Several studies document there is no deterrent to crime from the death penalty. That makes sense. I find it hard to believe that a hardened criminal, before he/she pulls the trigger thinks, “I better not commit this crime because 20 years from now after I have cost the state over $200 million, I could be executed.”

The Times study revealed that the state’s death row prisoners cost $184 million more per year than those sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. And we know that in almost all death row cases, certainly in California, that money is spent without any execution in the end – so to speak. In the 27 states that currently authorize death as a punishment, most have not carried out an execution in at least five or 10 years. Living in capital punishment limbo is surely phycological torture, but can it be much worse than life in prison without the possibility of parole?


While I personally do not find death by lethal injection in egregious cases to be cruel and unusual punishment, a dysfunctional death penalty system serves no purpose. It’s an injustice to spend on average $250 million on each death row inmate, only to not execute – except in a rare case which frankly may be appropriate – 20 years later. California should fix the death penalty system or abolish it. Which at this point is moot given Governor Gavin’s Order.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at [email protected] or

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