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November 23, 2015

Would dueling initiatives in California bring capital clarity or continued confusion?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this Orange County Register editorial, which is headlined "Cloudy prospects for death penalty in California." Here are excerpts:

Is the death penalty viable in California? Until recently, opposing it usually meant political suicide at the state level. In 1986, Rose Bird, chief justice of the California Supreme Court and Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointee, was booted from office by voters after she overturned 64 straight death-penalty convictions.  So were two like-minded associate justices.

After that, even Democrats promised to execute the worst criminals.  Democratic Gov. Gray Davis executed five men. His successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, terminated three, the last being Clarence Ray Allen, convicted of organizing three murders.... In 2012, voters defeated Proposition 34, which would have repealed capital punishment in California....

In recent years, the death penalty has been suspended because of accusations the “drug cocktail” used in executions violated the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against “cruel and unusual punishments.”  However, as the Register’s Martin Wisckol reported last week, “Death penalty advocates cheered two incremental steps this month: The Department of Corrections will proceed with the review process toward replacing the three-drug cocktail with a single drug, and an appeals court made a narrow technical ruling that favors the death penalty.”

Voters again could get a say.  One initiative advanced for the November 2016 ballot by actor Mike Farrell would repeal the death penalty.  Given that Prop. 34 lost, 52 percent to 48 percent, it has a chance.  The other proposed initiative is backed by county district attorneys across the state, including Orange County’s Tony Rackauckas.  In Mr. Wisckol’s summary, the measure would streamline “the process for approving a single-drug injection” and the appeals process, and expand “the pool of defense attorneys available to represent death row inmates.”  Under state law, if two similar initiatives pass, the one with the most votes becomes law.

However, California elects a new governor in 2018. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who already has announced his candidacy, in 2013 came out strongly against the death penalty.  Other Democratic candidates likely will take the same stance.  Republicans now are so weak a statewide electoral force, supporting the death penalty won’t help much.  Which means a death penalty opponent almost certainly will move into the Governor’s Office in 2019.

As a big supporter of direct democracy, I generally favor any and all efforts to put issues before voters. In addition, given the persistent mess that California's capital punishment system has been, I think it would be very valuable to give voters clear choices to either end or to mend the death penalty in the state. For various legal and political reasons, even a landslide vote on death penalty reform likely would not resolve all capital issues in California. But I think it could help bring a lot more capital clarity.

November 23, 2015 at 08:38 AM | Permalink

Comments

Capital Clarity: Thou Shalt Not Kill!

Posted by: Liberty1st | Nov 23, 2015 1:55:37 PM

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