Death Penalty on Trial in California

By Edward Tan, JD on April 25, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A California death penalty abolishment measure has made it onto the state's November ballots.

If voters pass it, California will be the 16th state to no longer have a death penalty statute in its books. In addition, the 725 inmates currently on the state's Death Row will have their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That sentence will also be the harshest punishment California prosecutors will be able to seek.

Despite the benefit to inmates, proponents are promoting the measure in a much different way.

Backers are playing up the projected financial bump the measure will save the state. The bill is even named "Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act."

Under the SAFE California Act, supporters say the state will save millions of dollars from ending the death penalty. They assert abolishment will allow California to layoff death penalty prosecutors and defense attorneys, and shut down San Quentin's Death Row.

The Act will earmark the funds to investigate unsolved crimes.

However, opponents argue that the death penalty isn't what's driving up state spending. Lawyers filing "frivolous" death penalties appeals are the problem, according to former Sacramento U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott.

California hasn't executed an inmate since 2006. Much of the delay has been due to litigation surrounding the state's three-drug execution method. Critics argue that the combination is cruel and unusual because they say it can cause extreme pain. Litigation is under way to switch to a one-drug method.

For now, come November, the future of California's death penalty will be for the voters to decide.

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