San Quentin State Prison

A view of the gurney inside the lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison. (Los Angeles Times)

We stopped being shocked by flagrantly dishonest campaign claims long ago, but sometimes the disingenuousness is so flagrant that it still gets our blood boiling — especially when it happens in lower-profile political races in which campaign managers are figuring that fact-checkers won't bother to call them out. Such is the case with the No on Proposition 34 campaign.

Proposition 34, which this page endorsed in May, would eliminate the death penalty in California and replace it with a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Yet the "no" side seems determined to make it sound as if the measure is about setting killers free.

"Prop. 34 lets serial killers, cop killers, child killers, and those who kill the elderly, escape justice," the campaign says on its website. "Proponents don't acknowledge that when California's death penalty was eliminated before, condemned criminals were released only to rape and kill again! Voters had to restore capital punishment to restore justice."

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First, Proposition 34 doesn't let anyone escape justice: Instead of being executed, death row inmates would spend the rest of their lives in prison. Second, the implication that the measure would free people to kill again is offensive and untrue.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional. At that time, there was no such sentence as life without parole; death row inmates were instead given life sentences, meaning they were eligible for parole hearings. Some death row inmates in California were indeed set free as a result, and one, Robert Lee Massie, committed murder after being paroled in 1978. Yet that has nothing to do with Proposition 34, which bars death row inmates from parole, meaning no repeat of the Massie incident would be possible.

If passed, Proposition 34 will save taxpayers money, correct unjust racial imbalances in sentencing, align California's moral values with those of the rest of the developed world and, most important, eliminate the possibility of executing an innocent person. Lacking much in the way of logical argument, opponents are mounting an emotional appeal on behalf of murder victims and suggesting that the excessive costs and delays of the death penalty are a function of a broken appeals system: Streamline this process, they say, and all will be well. Yet there's a reason the law gives inmates so many opportunities to fend off the executioner: Once performed, capital punishment can't be taken back. Speeding the appeals process would only increase the danger of California performing state-sponsored murder by killing an innocent. Law-and-order advocates who purport to value human life should pause before condoning such a thing.