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Proposition 62: Death Penalty. Initiative Statute. Maximum penalty Life Without Parole

The California Labor Federation supports this measure. Want to learn more? Read Jim Gonzalez’s “Vote YES on Prop 62 to End the Death Penalty” in California Labor’s 2016 Top Props Series. Check it out here.


Click here to download California Labor’s 2016 Endorsements & Ballot Measures Analyses

A YES vote on this measure means:

The state would repeal the death penalty and replace the maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without possibility of parole. It would apply retroactively to those already sentenced to death.

A NO vote on this measure means:

The state could still impose the death penalty as the maximum punishment.

Official Secretary of State Ballot Summary:

  • Repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
  • Applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.
  • States that persons found guilty of murder and sentenced to life without possibility of parole must work while in prison as prescribed by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
  • Increases to 60% the portion of wages earned by persons sentenced to life without the possibility of parole that may be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.


California is one of 31 states that allow the death penalty but has the largest number of inmates on Death Row. In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was unconstitutional in the state. In response, voters passed Proposition 17 which amended the California Constitution to make the death penalty constitutional. Current state law makes first degree murder punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when specified “special circumstances” of the crime have been charged and proven in court. Special circumstances that can be charged include when the murder was carried out for financial gain, was especially cruel, or was committed while the defendant was engaged in other specified criminal activities.

Under existing state law, death penalty verdicts are automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court. In these “direct appeals,” the defendants’ attorneys argue that violations of state law or federal constitutional law took place during the trial. If the California Supreme Court confirms the conviction and death sentence, the defendant can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. Habeas Corpus petitions involve factors of the case different from those considered in direct appeals. Inmates who have received a sentence of death may also request that the Governor reduce their sentence. Currently, the proceedings that follow a death sentence can take a couple of decades to complete.

Since 1978, over 900 individuals have received a death sentence. As of October 2015, 15 have been executed, 102 have died prior to being executed, 747 are in state prison with death sentences, and 64 had their sentences reduced by the courts. Three inmates on death row have been found innocent of the crimes they were convicted of and freed. Most of the offenders who are in prison with death sentences are at various stages of the direct appeal or habeas corpus review process. The state currently has various security regulations and procedures that result in increased security costs for these inmates. For example, inmates under a death sentence are currently required to be placed in separate cells, whereas most other inmates can share cells.

Executions of inmates in California by lethal injection have been on hold for ten years after the three-drug injection used in executions was deemed unconstitutional because it may be too painful. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently promulgated regulations for use of a new single-drug protocol for lethal injections. The regulations grant the department the ability to compound their own lethal injection drugs without having to purchase the drug from manufacturers, all of which have prohibited the use of their drugs for executions.

This measure would repeal the death penalty as a maximum sentence and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The repeal would apply retroactively to current Death Row inmates.

Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance estimate of fiscal impact: 

Net reduction in state and local government costs of potentially around $150 million annually within a few years due to the elimination of the death penalty.

Support and Opposition:

Supporters include Death Penalty Focus, the American Civil Liberties Union and actor Mike Farrell. They argue that repealing the death penalty will protect the public by locking up criminals for life and will save millions of dollars that can be invested in crime-fighting and crime prevention programs. They argue that the death penalty does not keep us safer from criminals, but drains important resources from programs to prevent crime, like after-school programs, job training and more police on the streets. They contend that the death penalty puts California at risk of perpetrating the ultimate injustice—executing an innocent person—since that has happened in other states, and convicted murderers have been found innocent in California.

Opponents include Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and other groups, that argue that the death penalty is a useful tool to prevent and punish the most serious crimes that result in the loss of a human life, and the state should fix, not abolish the penalty. They contend that the problem with the death penalty is the endless appeals process that denies justice to victim’s families, many of whom die before their loved ones’ killer is executed. They also argue that if prison without possibility of parole becomes the toughest penalty, it creates a slippery slope in which lesser penalties could be imposed for heinous crimes. They point to countries like Norway, where a man who murdered 69 people was given that country’s harshest penalty, only 21 years in prison.

Prior Positions:

The Labor Federation supported Proposition 34 in 2012 which was substantively similar to this Proposition and would have repealed the death penalty in California.

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