With the presidential election quickly approaching, California voters will weigh in on a total of 17 propositions, including Proposition 62 which will suspend the death penalty if passed.
Prop. 62 is a death penalty statute that seeks to repeal the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without parole. This initiative applies to existing death sentences and could have a large fiscal impact that would reduce state and county criminal justice costs of about $150 million annually in a few years, according to the official voter information guide.
“I think attitudes have changed in California on this issue and I expect (Prop.62) to pass.” said Jason McDaniel, Political Science Associate Professor. “I expect it to pass pretty easily, (but) I may be wrong about that.”
A “no” vote on Prop. 62 means that offenders convicted of first degree murder will continue to be executed while those currently on death row will face no changes.
An opposing measure will also appear on the ballot. Proposition 66 seeks to speed up the process of court proceedings regarding death sentences which means that sentences have a five-year expiration date. Prop. 66 has the potential to impact Prop. 62 because if both pass, the ballot measure with the most yes votes will replace the other.
“I have problems with the way we do ballot propositions now and it’s getting out of control somewhat,” said McDaniel. “One of the ways I think it’s problematic is that you see the problem with these kind of poison pill ones where (voters) support one but then there’ll be another one they might support that will invalidate it.”
The death penalty is a controversial topic in California voter history. Legal executions were authorized under the Criminal Practices Act of 1851 and have been practiced on and off in California despite conflicting attitudes.
“That’s hard to think about. I do have mixed feelings about it,” said Jen Manalayjay, a 2014 graduate of UC Santa Cruz. “I feel like it would be miserable living in prison for the rest of your life and I think letting them live there until they die, I think that’s okay because they did something wrong and they should be punished for it.”
The death penalty was previously on the ballot during the November 2012 election under proposition 34. Proposition 34 also sought to replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole and would have required all inmates convicted of murder to work in prison to pay restitution to the victim’s restitution fund, according to an article by Natasha Minsker, Director, ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy.
The Los Angeles Times found that Prop. 62 “had 40% support among the 1,909 registered voters polled in September across the state. Nine percent had no answer,” according to a USC Dornsife and Los Angeles Times poll.
As of July 1, 2016, California has the highest number of death row inmates (741) in the country. Over half of California’s death row population comes from three counties: Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange, according to a 2013 report from the Death Penalty Information Center.
“I agree with (execution) as a goal for a lot of other offenses,” said Rey Lopez, an Asian American Studies major. “I think there should still be an execution (for murder). I think we should still kill people.”
The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board endorsed the suspension of the death penalty and encouraged readers to vote yes on Prop. 62.
“California’s death penalty is a dysfunctional mess,” the Board began. “Since voters reinstated the death penalty nearly 40 years ago, 1,039 convicted murderers have received death sentences, but the state has executed only 13.”
The Board also noted that about ten percent of California death sentences get thrown out of court. California’s current death penalty system has cost taxpayers an estimated $5 billion according to the Times.
Debra J. Saunders of the San Francisco Chronicle opposes Prop. 62 and encouraged readers to save the death penalty by voting no Prop. 62. Saunders argued that the death penalty statute itself is not a problem, rather those working against the statute have rendered it useless.
“Over the years, appellate attorneys have introduced endless time-sucking, frivolous appeals that have jammed the courts, largely on technical grounds that have nothing to do with guilt or innocence,” Saunders said in her column.