Will the U.S. Finally End the Death Penalty?

In the past, abolition efforts have faced a backlash—but Gavin Newsom’s moratorium may be different.
The American death penalty is extraordinarily fragile, with death sentences and executions on the decline. Public support for the death penalty has diminished. The practice is increasingly marginalized around the world. California, with its disproportionately large share of American death-row inmates, announces an end to the death penalty. The year? 1972. That’s when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty inconsistent with the state’s constitutional prohibition of cruel or unusual punishments—only to have the death penalty restored a year later through popular initiative and legislation.
On Wednesday, again, California walked back its commitment to the death penalty. Though not full-fledged abolition, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a moratorium on capital punishment lasting as long as his tenure in office, insisting that the California death penalty has been an “abject…

Assemblymember Levine Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Abolish California’s Death Penalty

Dismantling California's gas chamber
Assemblymember Marc Levine (D- Marin County) Wednesday led a statewide coalition of lawmakers in announcing the introduction of Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 12, to abolish the death penalty in California. 

As introduced, ACA 12 would end California’s failed death penalty in 2020 by prohibiting a criminal sentence of death and require the re-sentencing of existing death penalty cases to a sentence of lifetime imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The constitutional amendment is co-authored by 23 members of the Legislature. 

California’s death row is the largest in the United States with 737 condemned prisoners. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1978, California has executed only 13 individuals, costing taxpayers over $5 billion, nearly 18 times the cost of imprisoning a convicted person for life. African Americans and Latinos represent 67% of California’s death row population, leading criminal justice reform advocates to question whether race has been improperly factored into death penalty sentences. Along with DNA evidence that has proven the innocence of 150 death row inmates across the nation, there is growing consensus that the death penalty has failed to achieve its stated public safety goals and should be abolished. 

“California’s death penalty is a failed relic of a failed criminal justice system,” said Assemblymember Levine. “The death penalty does not deter serious crime, has been overly applied to minorities and has proven to be an expensive and flawed exercise in justice. I am proud to stand with many of my legislative colleagues in calling for an end to the cruel, inhumane and ineffective death penalty. It is time for California to join a growing number of states and bring an end to the fatally flawed death penalty once and for all.” 

“Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive action today imposing a moratorium on all state sanctioned executions is a bold, courageous and legally appropriate decision,” continued Assemblymember Levine. “While the governor’s action will temporarily halt executions in California, now is the time for the Legislature and the voters of the state to end the failed death penalty once and for all by supporting ACA 12. This is a conversation that must include all Californians.” 

19 states have abolished the death penalty across the nation. 

“Capital punishment is arbitrary, capricious, racist, and routed in systemic flaws,” said Jessica Jackson, National Director and Co-Founder of #cut50 and Mill Valley City Councilmember. “We know that people who receive a sentence of death by capital punishment are overwhelmingly black, brown, and poor — it epitomizes a 2-tiered system of justice in this country where the rich and powerful receive leniency while the lives of marginalized people are undervalued and disposable. Governor Newsom took an important 1st step by announcing a moratorium on the death penalty in California. I applaud Assemblymember Levine for taking this important next step to bring a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot to abolish this heinous and unjust practice. I am hopeful that the good people of California will be on the right side of history as we end this shameful practice in our state.” 

If approved by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature, ACA 12 would require voter approval and appear on the November 2020 ballot. 

Source: Pasadena Journal, March 21, 2019

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"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed,
but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." -- Oscar Wilde

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