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May 21, 2010

California Democrats making a push for repeal of state's death penalty

I am already keeping on eye on crime and justice politics in California because of the marijuana legalization ballot initiative going to the voters this fall.  And this recent front-page article from the San Francisco Chronicle, which is headlined "Dems want to scrap death penalty in California," highlights that at least on major party is making capital punishment repeal another hot political topic on the left coast. Here are the basics from the start of the article:

The California Democratic Party is calling for abolition of the death penalty, defying conventional political wisdom and raising an issue that its candidate for governor might prefer to avoid.

Democratic leaders have previously passed resolutions opposing capital punishment, but the party says its records indicate it has never enshrined the position in its platform -- the formal statement of its principles -- until this year.

The platform, approved April 18 at the party's convention in Los Angeles, includes a declaration that Democrats will "replace the death penalty with a term of permanent incarceration, which will serve to protect the public, provide swift and certain justice for victims' families, and save the state an estimated $1 billion over the next five years."

The Democrats' action drew little attention until advocacy groups, who had pressed the party for years to oppose capital punishment, issued a release last week proclaiming victory.

I find it telling and somewhat troubling that the California Democratic Party is eager to make a big issue of an essentially dormant punishment option instead of being focused on the state's bulging prison population and the state's obvious need for effective general sentencing reform.  But it is not really that surprising to see another setting in which the death penalty become a high-profile and symbolic distraction from more day-to-day consequential crime and punishment issues.

May 21, 2010 at 09:52 AM | Permalink


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The USA has just executed 4 people in 2 days, 7 in the month so far and another 2 scheduled. Those plus a number of stays or commutations. If that occurred in any other Western nation, it would be headline news around the world, including the US, with large question marks about human rights. Effective sentencing reform doesn't usually happen overnight, though your excitement over the recent Supreme Court Eighth Amendment case verdicts may mark an exception. That the Democrats in California have at last made the abolition of the death penalty a publicly stated political aim, deserves rather more than your scorn, since it brings to the fore the debate that about criminal sentencing that you have long despaired of happening. Too bad that it is not on the terms you would like.
I see that The Guardian is now showing extracts of the London "mock" dp trial that I referred to some weeks ago. It gives a pretty good flavor of that event :).

Posted by: peter | May 21, 2010 11:35:50 AM

Doug --

There's an old saying: Thank God for your enemies. I am giving a lot of thanks today.

The State is not going to save significant money taking on either imprisonment or the death penalty; in order to save significant money, you have to go to where the significant money IS, that being social spending and union contracts. But if they want to go after a criminal law issue, I'm glad they went after the DP. I wonder whether a single state-wide Democratic candidate will embrace this plank, and I'll be watching to see.

I'm pretty sure even Barbara Boxer won't go along with it, which tells you how far the Party's activists have gone.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 21, 2010 1:21:55 PM

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