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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Proposition 34 Loses, But Support For Death Penalty In California Weakening

Michael Juliani |
November 7, 2012 | 8:16 p.m. PST

Assistant News Editor



The race for Prop 34 seemed undecided up to election day.  (Dawn Megli / Neon Tommy)
The race for Prop 34 seemed undecided up to election day. (Dawn Megli / Neon Tommy)

Prop. 34 pledged to end the death penalty in California, reducing the highest possible sentence for murder to be life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Though 53 percent of voters rejected the measure, support for the death penalty continues to wane in California. Foes of the death penalty pledged to renew the fight at the ballot box in the years to come.

 “The results of the referendum in California are a clear indication that an increasing number of voters have changed their minds on the death penalty,” said Richard Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Such a costly, ineffective system no longer has the support of a large majority of the public.”

The 725 people on death row in California would have their sentences reduced, and they would be forced to work prison jobs that would raise funds for victims' families.  The Prop. also planned on saving the state up to $130 million a year, according to the L.A. Times.  

The law would've gone into effect the day after the election, immediately commuting their sentences.

California has executed 13 inmates since 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated.

According to KCET, Prop. 34 was an initiative statute, meaning that it was started by a person in the public. That person was Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin Prison.  

Woodford started Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (SAFE) in California with the help of Don Heller, who helped to write the ballot initiative that reinstated the state's death penalty in 1978, along with several others.

By July, the Proposition raised almost $3 million, with large donations from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (a quarter of a million dollars) and Hyatt hotel legacy Nicholas Pritzker (half a million dollars).  The opposition to the Prop. only raised about $40,000 by July.

The L.A. Times reported that support for Prop. 34 surged a week before the election, but not enough to ensure a prediction that it would pass. The gap between those who said they supported it and opposed it had shrunk to only three percentage points. A month earlier the gap had been 13 points.

Polls a month before election day seemed more dire for supporters, who pointed to the expensive bureaucracy of the prison system as a reason to cut an unnecessary practice. 

"I've always said that I cannot envision that somebody contemplating murder sits at the kitchen table and says 'I'm not going to commit a murder because I could face the death penalty, but I will if I only face life imprisonment without parole,'" said retired U.S. Circuit Court justice H. Lee Sarokin, according to KCET.

According to the L.A. Times study, the polled voters' support for Prop. 34 increased after they heard more about what it would do, like its financial benefits. Once the Times introduced the information to the voters, the margin between supporters and opponents shrunk again to 2.9 percentage points.

Prop. 34 did not see the heavy support that Proposition 36, another prison reform measure, did going into Election Night.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, five states have banned the death penalty since 2007. The number of death sentences has been decreasing nationwide, around 75 percent since 1996.



What Would Proposition 34 Do?


Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of the California Propositions here.

Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.



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