When California voters decide in November whether to abolish the death penalty or speed it up, the rival measures will compete in a political climate that appears to be shifting, gradually, against capital punishment, reported the San Francisco Chronicle.
The ballot this November will include Prop. 62, to repeal the death penalty, and Prop. 66, a counter-initiative backed by prosecutors to reduce the time between sentencing and execution, in a state where condemned prisoners typically spend more than two decades on Death Row. Among other things, it would limit appeals and require the state Supreme Court to decide capital cases within five years of sentencing. If both measures pass, only the one with the most votes will become law.
Nationally, death sentences and executions are declining, and the Democratic Party seems prepared to oppose the death penalty for the first time in 44 years. In California, both U.S. Senate candidates oppose executions, and at least one prominent death penalty supporter is keeping a low profile.
For decades in California, the death penalty has been a subject that candidates have gladly embraced if they supported it. If not, they mostly have tried to change the subject.
When Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a death penalty bill in 1977, he was overridden by a Legislature with a Democratic majority. The next year, voters approved an expansion of the law by a 71 percent majority.
Republican state Sen. George Deukmejian highlighted his role as the bill’s author in his successful campaigns for state attorney general in 1978 and for governor in 1982 and 1986. And voters in 1986 removed Chief Justice Rose Bird and two of her state Supreme Court colleagues, Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin, largely because of their decisions to overturn death sentences.
As recently as November 2012, a week before a vote to repeal the death penalty in California, Deukmejian appeared at a news conference urging voters to defeat the measure. By his side were two other former governors, Republican Pete Wilson and Democrat Gray Davis, who during his tenure had appointed only judges who favored the death penalty.
The repeal measure lost, 52 to 48 percent.
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