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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Measure to repeal California's death penalty qualifies for the November ballot

California death row
California death row
California voters will be asked this fall whether to repeal the state's 38-year-old death penalty, as elections officials announced Friday that an initiative to abolish the law has earned a spot on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Backers of the initiative gathered almost 405,000 voter signatures, according to the final tally conducted by county elections officials.

The initiative, championed by former "M*A*S*H" actor Mike Farrell, would eliminate the death penalty for first-degree murder. The most serious punishment would become life in prison without the possibility of parole.

That would include the 743 inmates now on death row, the largest condemned population of any U.S. state and one beset with cases of extreme mental illness .

"Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect," said Farrell in a written statement Friday evening. "We have to do better in California."

Only 13 inmates have been executed since the current law was enacted in 1978, with none in the last decade after legal challenges against the execution drugs administered by prison officials .

The initiative would require mandatory work while behind bars for those convicted of murder, with wages going to debts owed to crime victims.

The independent Legislative Analyst's Office has estimated that in the long run, the ballot measure would reduce state government expenses by as much as $150 million a year, due the elimination of legal challenges to death sentences.

A similar ballot measure, Proposition 34, was defeated by voters in 2012. A pro-death penalty initiative may also appear on the November ballot , after supporters also turned in signatures last month.

November's field of statewide propositions will probably produce the longest statewide ballot since March 2000 . Besides the two death penalty measures, voter signatures on eight other initiatives are now being checked. The deadline for Secretary of State Alex Padilla to certify the list of ballot measures is June 30.

Source: Los Angeles Times, John Myers, June 18, 2016

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