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Towards Abolishing the Death Penalty in California

March 5, 2012

Last week, activists in California took an important step in their campaign to end the death penalty in California. On Wednesday, the supporters of the SAFE California Act submitted over 800,000 signatures, more than enough to meet the requirement of 504,000 to qualify a ballot initiative for the November ballot. The initiative would replace the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole, both for those already convicted and those convicted in the future.

The prospects of the initiative remain uncertain. According to a Field Poll survey conducted in September, California still strongly support the death penalty in the abstract. However, when asked to choose between the death penalty and life without parole, 48% of respondents chose life without parole while 40% chose the death penalty. It was the first time that more respondents chose life without parole since the Field Poll began asking the question 11 years ago.

As I’ve written before, I oppose the death penalty. It’s immoral, inhumane, discriminatory, ineffective, and costly. The simplest argument, in my view, is this: an imperfect, fallible criminal justice system can render results that are not in fact just, and the absolute penalty of death should never be carried out when there is a risk that the convicted person is innocent. The possibility of executing an innocent person is unacceptable; in a system administered by humans, that possibility is inescapable. A stunning New Yorker article by David Grann about Cameron Todd Willingham and a New York Times essay from this weekend demonstrate that this possibility is real. Hopefully, California voters will understand this when they go to the polls in November and the results of the Field Poll survey will hold.

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 9:57 pm

    The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at

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