California chooses on capital punishment


Lethal injection room of San Quentin prison. Courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Ben Dahan staff writer
The future of capital punishment in California will be determined by the ballots cast on Nov. 8. California residents will be choosing between two mutually exclusive plans.
The choice is between Prop 62, which repeals the death penalty, giving those on death row life imprisonment without possibility of parole, and Prop 66, which retains the death penalty and streamlines its process.
California currently has 747 prisoners on death row, more than any other of the 30 states with the punishment. There are 39 circumstances in which someone can be sentenced to death, including rape-murders and the assassination of a police officer.
“I believe that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment in some cases, where the defendant in these cases have serious prior felony records and the acts they have committed are heinous and uncivilized,” former mayor of Beverly Hills, longtime prosecutor and crime novelist Robert Tannenbaum said.  
Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mike Kraut, who was also once a prosecutor, believes that the penalty, which is itself uncivilized, needs to be repealed.
“I think that’s there’s always a chance you can execute the wrong person. We are the only and last civilized country to allow the death penalty,” Kraut said.
In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s capital punishment system was unconstitutional. Voters reinstated the death penalty for good in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 7. Since then, only 13 inmates have been executed, the most recent one in 2006.
Prop 34, a similar attempt to repeal the death penalty in the state, failed by a thin margin of four percent in 2012.
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll of 1,900 registered voters conducted in September of this year, shows that only 40 percent of voters support Prop 62.
California’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, publicly endorsed Prop 62 in a statement on his Facebook page, despite the fact that it may not be very popular within his constituency and that it “is a controversial issue that raises deeply felt passions on all sides.”
One argument for repealing the penalty, which prompted the creation of Prop 66, is the inefficiency of the expensive and lengthy appeals process. The state spends $150 million dollars annually on the death penalty.
“The appeal process should definitely streamline and be expedited. There’s no reason to keep this going in perpetuity,” Tannenbaum said.
Both propositions provide that the prisoners currently on death row will have to work while in prison, something they are currently exempt from doing, and a portion of their income (60 percent in 62, 70 percent in 66) will go to the families of their victims as compensation.
Despite the divisions that the issue may cause, Newsom believes that with time, capital punishment will be removed from his state and country with retrospective support.
“I also believe that decades from now, like with so many once-contentious issues, America will look back at the death penalty as an archaic mistake,” Newsom’s statement read.