On election day, Californians will also have to vote on two propositions about the death penalty. With all the media attention garnered by Donald and Hillary, not all local citizens are sufficiently informed about the crucial importance of the choice between Proposition 62 and Proposition 66 for the criminal justice system.
While Prop 62 would abolish the death penalty in the state, Prop 66 vows to speed up executions.
As of July 2016, there were 741 people on death row in California. The state has not executed anyone since 2006. In 2008, The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice came to the conclusion that death sentences were extremely unlikely to ever be carried out due to severe failings in the system of appeals, among other problems.
Now, California voters will have to decide whether they want to fix the system or repeal the death penalty altogether.
Proposition 62 would replace the death penalty with life without a chance of parole -saving the state $150 million per year- while Prop 66 intends to implement changes that would make the process faster and, allegedly, more efficient.
Only one of the two measures can pass into law. Polls show that the proposition to repeal the death penalty has more support among voters, but neither option has the majority required to change the state´s legislation.
Surveys have revealed that voters are unsure about what each measure entails.
The death penalty remains one of the most controversial issues on the ballot, and I feel that it is important to inform voters about what is a stake on November 8th.
Basics of Prop 66
- Challenges to death penalty convictions (aka habeas corpus petitions) move from Supreme Court to trial courts
- Judge of original murder case hears habeas corpus petitions
- Habeas corpus petitions and appeals must be completed in under five years
- Death row prisoners can be housed in any prison across the state
- Death row prisoners work and victims receive 70% of their wages or the restitution fine, whichever is less
Basics of Prop 62
- Repeal state death penalty
- Replace maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without possibility of parole
- Measure would apply retroactively to those already sentenced to death
- Death row prisoners work and 20-60% of their wages go to the victims
Racial bias has long been an issue in death penalty sentences. They are more frequent when the defendant belongs to a minority and the victims are white. Numerous people have been found to be innocent after they were sentenced to death. Several among them have been wrongfully executed.
I personally believe that California´s criminal justice system, in its current state, cannot be trusted with such dramatic life and death decisions. While speeding up legal processes can be very positive, limiting the handling of appeals to five years could be dangerous.
Having a deadline for appeal resolution, even without having considered all the facts, might make some California courts trigger-happy.
Meanwhile, according to a recent poll, death row inmates largely oppose Prop 62. They reportedly believe that life without parole is just a slower way to die. Besides, people on death row are granted appeal attorneys and extra funding for expert witnesses.
Many of them are prepared to risk being executed in exchange for the possibility to prove their innocence. But they are perhaps being too hopeful about the outcome of their appeals.
Even for people who believe in the death penalty, Prop 66 must appear flawed. In its current state, I believe the only way to go for the California death penalty is to disappear. Above all, whatever your position might be, voters in our state need to be aware of the far-reaching consequences the vote will have, Regardless of the outcome, it is important for it to reflect the opinion of Californians, rather than a mere ignorance about the measures on the ballot.