Californians Get Second Chance to Repeal Death Penalty

Californians will vote in November on whether to repeal the state's long-unused death penalty law, four years after a similar measure was defeated by 4 percentage points.
by | June 20, 2016 AT 4:40 PM

By Bob Egelko

Californians will vote in November on whether to repeal the state's long-unused death penalty law, four years after a similar measure was defeated by 4 percentage points.

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Friday that the initiative to eliminate capital punishment and replace it with a sentence of life in prison without parole had received more than the 365,880 valid signatures it needed to qualify for the ballot.

The measure is likely to compete with an initiative sponsored by prosecutors that seeks to speed up executions by requiring a large group of defense lawyers to accept capital cases, and by requiring the state Supreme Court to decide all death penalty appeals within five years. Supporters of that measure said they have submitted nearly 600,000 signatures to election officials, who are in the process of verifying them.

If both measures pass, the one with the larger majority would become law.

Backers of the initiative to repeal the death penalty cite an estimate by the Legislature's fiscal analyst that it would save the state $150 million a year in costs of prison housing and protracted court appeals. They also say opinion polls show a decline in public support for capital punishment since November 2012, when an initiative to end the death penalty was defeated by 52 to 48 percent.

California has the nation's largest Death Row, with nearly 750 prisoners, but has executed only 13 since reinstating the death penalty in 1977. After the state's last execution, in January 2006, a federal judge ruled that flaws in the state's lethal injection procedures and prison staff training had created an undue risk of a botched and agonizing execution.

Prison officials have revamped their procedures several times since then but have encountered further obstacles in federal and state courts and have not found a source of injection drugs since the last U.S. manufacturer stopped making them. The state has settled a lawsuit by crime victims' groups by agreeing to switch from the three-drug combination used in past executions to a single, lethal dose of a powerful barbiturate.

(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle