A measure to abolish California's death penalty qualified for the November
ballot on Monday.
If it passes, the 725 California inmates now on Death Row will have their
sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It
would also make life without parole the harshest penalty prosecutors can seek.
Backers of the measure say abolishing the death penalty will save the state
millions of dollars through layoffs of prosecutors and defense attorneys who
handle death penalty cases, as well as savings from not having to maintain the
nation's largest death row at San Quentin prison.
Those savings, supporters argue, can be used to help unsolved crimes. If the
measure passes, $100 million in purported savings from abolishing the death
penalty would be used over three years to investigate unsolved murders and
The measure is dubbed the "Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for
California Act," also known as the SAFE California Act. It's the 5th measure to
qualify for the November ballot, the California secretary of state announced
Monday. Supporters collected more than the 504,760 valid signatures needed to
place the measure on the ballot.
"Our system is broken, expensive and it always will carry the grave risk of a
mistake," said Jeanne Woodford, the former warden of San Quentin who is now an
anti-death penalty advocate and an official supporter of the measure.
The measure will also require most inmates sentenced to life without parole to
find jobs within prisons. Most death row inmates do not hold prison jobs for
Though California is one of 35 states that authorize the death penalty, the
state hasn't put anyone to death since 2006. A federal judge that year halted
executions until prison officials built a new death chamber at San Quentin
Prison, developed new lethal injection protocols and made other improvements to
delivering the lethal three-drug combination.
A separate state lawsuit is challenging the way the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation developed the new protocols. A judge in Marin
County earlier this year ordered the CDCR to redraft its lethal injection
protocols, further delaying executions.
Since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978, the state has executed
13 inmates. A 2009 study conducted by a senior federal judge and law school
professor concluded that the state was spending about $184 million a year to
maintain death row and the death penalty system.
Supporters of the proposition, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, are
portraying it as a cost-savings measure in a time of political austerity. They
count several prominent conservatives and prosecutors – including the author of
the 1978 measure adopting the death penalty – as supporters and argue that too
few executions have been carried out at too great a cost.
"My conclusion is that he law is totally ineffective," said Gil Garcetti, a
former Los Angeles county district attorney. "Most inmates are going to die of
natural causes, not executions."
Garcetti, who served as district attorney from 1992 to 2000, said he changed
his mind after publication of the 2009 study, which was published by Judge
Arthur Alarcon of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and law professor Paula
Opponents of the measure, such as former Sacramento U.S Attorney McGregor
Scott, argue that lawyers filing "frivolous appeals" are the problem, not the
death penalty law.
"On behalf of crime victims and their loved ones who have suffered at the hands
of California's most violent criminals, we are disappointed that the ACLU and
their allies would seek to score political points in their continued efforts to
override the will of the people and repeal the death penalty," said Scott, who
is chairman of the Californians for Justice and Public Safety, a coalition of
law enforcement officials, crime victims and others formed to oppose the
The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, meanwhile, remains one the biggest
backers of the death penalty in the state and opposes the latest attempt to
abolish it in California. The foundation and its supports argue that federal
judges are gumming up the process with endless delays and reversals of state
Supreme Court rulings upholding individual death sentences.
The foundation on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate resumption of
executions in California. The foundation's lawsuit, filed directly with the
state Court of Appeal, argues that since the three-drug method has been the
subject of so much litigation – and the source of the execution delays – a
one-drug method of lethal injection like Ohio uses can be substituted
(source: Paul Elias, Huffingtno Post)