Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Two state props address death penalty


The death chamber at San Quentin State Prison hasn't been used in a decade; California voters have the chance to weigh in on dueling death penalty measures.
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California voters will get two chances in November to take a serious look at the state's death penalty. One measure that will be on the ballot, Proposition 62, would abolish it, while another, Proposition 66, would reform it.

Prop 62 would replace the death penalty as the maximum punishment for people found guilty of murder with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The measure would apply retroactively to people who've already received death sentences.

People sentenced to life with no possibility of parole would have to work while in prison. Prop 62 would raise the portion of their wages that may be applied to victim restitution fines or orders against them to 60 percent.

The state Legislative Analyst's Office said in its report on Prop 62, "we estimate that this measure would reduce net state and county costs related to murder trials, legal challenges to death sentences, and prisons," likely by "around $150 million annually within a few years. This reduction in costs could be higher or lower by tens of millions of dollars, depending on various factors."

Prop 66 would change government procedures around state court appeals and petitions challenging death penalty convictions and sentences. Among other provisions of the measure, it would designate the superior court for initial petitions and limit successive petitions. It would also impose time limits on state court death penalty reviews, appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals would be required to accept death penalty appeals, and death row inmates would be required to work and pay victim restitution.

Additionally, if Prop 66 receives more votes than Prop 62, the latter measure would be voided.

The LAO found that Prop 66 would have an "unknown ongoing impact on state court costs for processing legal challenges to death sentences." There would be "potential prison savings in the tens of millions of dollars annually."

However, the agency also said, "The measure would accelerate the amount the state spends on legal challenges to death sentences," because "the state would incur annual cost increases in the near term to process hundreds of pending legal challenges within the time limits specified in the measure."

The LAO report continued, "The state would save similar amounts in future years," since at least some of the costs "would have otherwise occurred over a much longer term absent this measure. Given the significant number of pending cases that would need to be addressed, the actual amount and duration of these accelerated costs in the near term is unknown. It is possible, however, that such costs could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually for many years."

In an email to the Bay Area Reporter , Allison Martin, a Yes on Prop 62 spokeswoman, said the measure "is the only commonsense solution to deal with California's deeply dysfunctional and expensive death penalty system. Prop 62 will finally put an end to our failed death penalty system, saving California taxpayers $150 million annually and guaranteeing we never execute an innocent person."

The state has not executed anyone since 2006. Two years ago, a federal judge ruled that the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional because it is arbitrary and plagued with delays.

This is the second time in four years that voters will decide whether to abolish the death penalty. The last effort, Proposition 34 in 2012, was defeated 52 percent to 48 percent. Recent polling suggests those numbers haven't changed, making Prop 62 an uphill fight.

Kent Scheidegger, a spokesman for No on Prop 62/Yes on Prop 66 and legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, said in a phone interview that voters should oppose Prop 62 "because it would eliminate the only just punishment for the very worst murderers."

"It would let people off with inadequate punishment for crimes such as mass murder, serial murder, rape, and the murder of children," he added.

Scheidegger said Prop 66 "would at long last fix the problems with the unnecessarily long reviews of capital cases. We are spending far too much time and far too much money litigating multiple times questions that have nothing to do with whether the guy is guilty or not."


Ties to Prop 8?

Referring to California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage, passed by the state's voters in 2008 but undone by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013, Martin, the Prop 62 spokeswoman, said that the people who are running the No on Prop 62/Yes on Prop 66 campaign are "the same group that pushed the hateful Prop 8 to deny same-sex couples in California the right to marry."

Asked in a phone interview about Martin's statement, Scheidegger laughed and said there's "No connection whatsoever."

He said he personally "wasn't involved in the campaign" backing Prop 8 "at all," and he "didn't contribute to it" or "do anything for it."

However, he said he did vote for the anti-gay measure.

"I didn't see the need at the time to change the definition of marriage. I thought civil unions did the job," he said.

In a follow-up email, Scheidegger said, "For what it's worth, Anne Marie Schubert is one of the main leaders of the Yes 66/No 62 campaign."

Schubert, a lesbian who's the Sacramento County district attorney, is the sister of Prop 8 mastermind Frank Schubert.

Asked whether Frank Schubert has anything to do with No on Prop 62/Yes on Prop 66, Scheidegger said, "Nope. Not a thing, to my knowledge."

"The district attorneys are largely running it," he said.


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