On the ballot will be Proposition 34, which, if approved, would rewrite the state's sentencing law as follows:
What's missing from that amendment is the word "death," current found between "by" and "imprisonment" in the sentence above, appearing at Cal. Penal Code § 190(a).
'Every person guilty of murder in the first degree shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for life without the possibility of parole, or imprisonment in the state prison for a term of 25 years to life.'
San Quentin death chamber
Our frequent posts on capital punishment have treated various concerns – legality, morality, workability. The findings of this proposition focus on cost – costs overall, and the cost of diverting money away from better-spent safety spending.
Perhaps no surprise there, given that Proposition 34's sponsored by the son of a legislator who sponsored a vast expansion of death penalty eligibility in the state. Examples, from § 3 of the ballot proposition:
'The people of the State of California declare their purpose and intent in enacting the act to be as follows:In the runup to the vote on Prop 34 – which would commute the sentences of the more than 725 persons now on death row at San Quentin to life in prison without possibility of parole – California Lawyer's published a fascinating article on the history that brought the state to this moment. Well worth a read.
'1. To get more murderers and rapists off the streets and to protect our families.
'2. To save the taxpayers $1 billion in five years so those dollars can be invested in local law enforcement, our children's schools, and services for the elderly and disabled.
'3. To use some of the savings from replacing the death penalty to create the SAFE California Fund, to provide funding for local law enforcement, specifically police departments, sheriffs, and district attorney offices, to increase the rate at which homicide and rape cases are solved.
'5. To require that persons convicted of murder with special circumstances remain behind bars for the rest of their lives, with mandatory work in a high-security prison, and that money earned be used to help victims through the victim's compensation fund.
'7. To end a costly and ineffective practice and free up law enforcement resources to keep our families safe.
How will Californians vote?
Not clear, but close.
Polls currently place abolition at a disadvantage: on September 25 the authoritative Field Poll found that 42% of Californians approved the measure, 45% opposed it, and 13% were undecided. A USC/Los Angeles Times poll reported the same week that the Prop 34 "was trailing 51% to 38%," but that it "became a statistical dead heat once respondents were told the measure would require convicted killers to work while in prison, direct their earnings to their victims and earmark $100 million for police to solve murders and rapes."
Time will tell if cost-cutting kills capital punishment in California.