Death penalty in California

3 Feb

After a four year moratorium on the death penalty in California, officials are introducing new lethal injection procedures to allow executions to continue. The state has the dubious honour of having the most number of people on death row in the US (close to 700) – twice as much as Texas, also known as the ‘death state’.

According to the ACLU of Northern California, more than 12,000 individuals and organisations have since submitted petitions to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) for lifting the moratorium. In its statement against the amendments from CDCR (therefore allowing the lifting of the moratorium), ACLU Northern California argues that,

‘… The passing mention of female inmates creates logistical inconsistencies, raises many problems of unequal treatment, and deprives women oftheir constitutional rights to counsel and to spiritual advisors. The new provisions also continue to infringe on protected civil rights, including the media’s and public’s First Amendment right to witness the execution-a right that the CDCR has acknowledged by leaving the curtain open so the public can view, but not hear, the events in the execution chamber’.

Other groups which submitted their objections include the California Catholic Conference, California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (CCV), Equal Justice Society and the California Chapter of the National Organization for Women. Says Judy Kerr, Outreach Coordinator for CCV and a murder victim survivor, “With more than 1,000 murders going unsolved every year in California, many family members of murder victims are outraged that the government is wasting time and money on the death penalty.”

Public sentiments against the death penalty in California is bolstered by an opinion poll conducted in 2009 by University of California, Santa Cruz Professor Craig Haney. Based on 800 ‘jury-eligible Californians’, the study discovered that only 26% of respondents support capital punishment if given a choice between the death penalty and the alternative sentence of lifetime imprisonment (with requirements to work and pay restitution to the victim’s family). As many as 55% of respondents also prefer lifetime imprisonment even when work and restitution requirements are removed. 44% of the respondents are worried about executing innocent people.

These concerns have increased due to DNA and forsenic technologies which has found and released more than 100 (later found to be innocent) death row inmates for the past 35 years. The 2004 execution of Cameron Todd Willingham in Texas for the murder of three children by arson has also since been discovered to be unsubstantiated.

Furthermore, it is estimated that California could save up to $1 billion in 5 years by suspending the death penalty. The amount is derived by comparing the cost of meting out the death penalty to its alternative, lifetime imprisonment. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty currently costs the state $137 million annually. The alternative permanent imprisonment is estimated to cost only $11 million. The new proposed housing facilities for death row inmates is also expected to cost $400 million according to the State Auditor.

In addition, California has one of the most ‘expansive death penalty statutes in the nation’. Its application ‘is maddeningly inconsistent’ according to the Mercury News in 2008. The death sentence also appears to be racially biased. The proportion of blacks on California’s death row is five times their proportion of the state population.


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