California to vote on abolishing death penalty

San Quentin Prison, San Francisco Bay (file pic) San Quentin is one of the most famous death row sites in the US

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Voters in California are to be asked whether they want to abolish the state's death penalty law.

The measure will appear on November's ballot after more than 500,000 people signed up to back the proposal.

The measure would see death row inmates have their sentences commuted to life. Just 13 people have been executed since the law was re-introduced in 1978.

Backers say abolition could save California $100m (£62m) per year, but opponents say justice would be harmed.

"Our system is broken, expensive and it always will carry the grave risk of a mistake," said Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin Prison, home to the largest death row unit in the US.

Ms Woodford is now an anti-death penalty advocate and is named as the official proposer of the measure, which is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Ms Woodford and other supporters say the cash savings would be achieved by taking prisoners off death row and by cutting down on fees for lawyers arguing death penalty cases. The money could be better spent investigating unsolved crimes, backers of the measure say.

Under the terms of the measure those sentenced to life in prison for murder would in future have to take up jobs while incarcerated.

'Political points'

With the state of California wracked by long-standing budget issues, there is wide acceptance that the death penalty system needs reform.

Data from the Death Penalty Information Center shows that at the start of the year the state had 723 inmates on death row. The US as a whole had 3,189.

But no inmate has been put to death in California since 2006, and a respected study in 2009 noted that the state was spending some $184m each year to keep death row and the death penalty infrastructure up and running.

Opponents of the measure argue that the principle of the death penalty is valid and should remain, but say the constant and costly appeals and legal fees are inflating the costs.

"On behalf of crime victims and their loved ones who have suffered at the hands of California's most violent criminals, we are disappointed that the ACLU and their allies would seek to score political points in their continued efforts to override the will of the people and repeal the death penalty," former Sacramento prosecutor McGregor Scott told the Associated Press.

The death penalty measure is the fifth to qualify for November's ballot, California's secretary of state said on Monday.

Other measures deal with water costs, political contributions, car insurance and local legislative boundaries.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I very much believe that those who have perpatrated serious crimes can be returned back to society. If abolishing the capital punishment does save money as claimed in the article it should be spent on perfecting the capacity of getting the perpatrators back into society. Justice is achieved that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    I don't know why people say that DP is not a deterent, yes there have been many studies that show is it does not wok but there have been even more to the contrary.
    I am in favour of the DP and think putting it to the vote is a good idea. (its democratic and I would like the same choice here in the UK)
    How and why it costs so much just seems ridiculous, I mean how much can a legnth of rope cost?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Im reading on here about 'what if the executed is innocent'
    If they are innocent, they won't get the death penalty! Technology, forensic science and police work these days makes it almost impossible to be wrong.

    What about the victims and their families? Their grief never ends. Theirs is a life sentence whatever way you look at it and they like anyone, deserve justice for their lost ones

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    DP doesn't deter criminals any more than prison does on average (proven by comparing crime statistics across states with and without the DP). So it serves not to deter crime. Most criminals who are capable of such crimes don't consider the consequences, otherwise they wouldn't commit the crimes. To conclude: DP is too open to abuse and miscarriage of justice to have it in a civilized society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    California HAS voted on this in the past and we have voted clearly in favour of the death penalty which is why it was reinstated not that long ago.

    I am wondering why some few feel like interfering with the majority wish and making us pay for the expense of another election to go through this once again.


Comments 5 of 7


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