California Death Penalty: Is California For or Against Death?

The California death penalty is extensive. Here’s everything you need to know about the death penalty dating back to the 1700s.The history behind the death penalty in California dates to the 1700s. It is an extensive history.

Here’s everything you will ever need to know about the death penalty in the state of California.

Does California Have the Death Penalty?

The death penalty in the state of California is legal. However, as of March of 2019, the state of California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, has halted all executions by issuing an official moratorium.

Between 1778 all the way to 1972, the state of California has executed 709 death row inmates. It was not until then that the California Supreme Court came with the decision in People v. Anderson that killed the state of California Death penalty statute.

Shortly after the voters in California reinstated the death penalty. It only took a few months accomplished this feat with Proposition 17, which legalized the death penalty within the state constitution. This is what ended the Anderson ruling. Since that ruling was made, there only have been around 13 executions, but hundreds and hundreds have been sentenced. The last execution that took place in the state of California was back in 2006.

According to the records of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in August of 2018, there are currently 744 death row inmates. Just a year prior in August of 2017, there were reports showing that there were 746 inmates on death row. Only 22 of these inmates on death row were women. These women are housed in the Central California Women’s Facility situated in Chowchilla.

In 2012, and 2016, the state of California rejected the repeal of the death penalty thanks to the popular vote. However, the state of California did adopt the statute that would expedite the inmate’s appeal process.

Since the moratorium, in 2019, the state of California withdrew the lethal injection protocol from the San Quentin State Prison. As of right now, the San Quentin State Prison death chamber is currently closed indefinitely.

California Death Penalty History

As previously stated, the California death penalty history dates to the 1700s. The first recorded death sentence given in the state of California was dated to 1778. It was on April 6, 1778 when four Kumeyaay chiefs from the Mission San Diego area were convicted of the crime of conspiring to kills Christians. These four Kumeyaay chiefs were sentenced to death by the Commandant of the Presidio of San Diego, Jose Francisco Ortega.

The four Kumeyaay chiefs were slotted to be shot on April 11. During this short time, there were many doubts that the execution will happen.

In the state of California, there were four methods that were used when it came to executions. Right up until California became a state in the United States, they would use the firing squad as their primary method to execute these death row inmates. Upon becoming one of the states within the United States, they changed their primary method to hanging.

On February 14, 1872, the penal code was modified to state that hangings would be required to be inside either a county jail or a private place. The hangings could not take place outside for the public to spectate. The only people who would be permitted to be there at this execution would be the district attorney, the sheriff, the physician, and 12 “reputable citizens.”

It was not until 1889 when the executions were no longer a local thing, it was a state thing. So, the law again was updated, so that the hangings now would be required to be performed in state prison. The two-state prisons that could perform these hangings would be the Folsom State Prison and the San Quentin State Prison.

All to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the law did not technically require the judge to choose the certain prison, however, it was just customary for recidivists to be transferred to the Folsom State Prison.

Under these laws, the first death row inmate to be executed was on March 3, 1893. This inmate was Jose Gabriel. He was executed for murder.

On December 13, 1895, the first hanging done at Folsom State Prison was Chin Hane, which was also executed for murder.

This led to a grand total of 215 death row inmates that were hung at San Quentin State Prison and 92 death row inmates that were hung at Folsom State Prison.

1972 Abolishment of the Death Penalty

When it came down to the People v. Anderson case back on April 24, 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state of California death penalty laws was unconstitutional.

The only objector was Justice Marshall F. McComb. McComb argues that the death penalty lessened the crime rates, stating that the prior precedents of the Supreme Court thought the death penalty was well within the limits of the constitution. Also stating that the initiative process was the only appropriate way to allow the death penalty.

Since the majority was against the death penalty this spared the lives of some famous murders consisting of Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. This highly upset McComb to the point he had to walk out of the courtroom.

After the ruling of the People v. Anderson case, the Constitution of California had to modify to reinstate the death penalty under what is known as Proposition 17 in the state of California statutes.

It was not until 1973 when the new statute was put in place making the death penalty mandatory for various crimes including kidnapping where a victim dies, first-degree murder in certain situations, treason against the state, and various other crimes.

The great debate over the death penalty playing out in a national level was a huge thing in the 1970s. In June of 1972, the United States Supreme Court stated their decision on the case of Furman v. Georgia. This is ruling affected the entire United States. It made that all capital punishment statutes in all states were unconstitutional.

It was not until July 1976, when the United States Supreme Court states their decision on the case of Gregg v. Georgia. After the Supreme court reviewed the capital punishment laws, they found that these statutes were indeed constitutional and agreed to allow the jury to impose the death penalty only after they considered the mitigating and aggravating circumstances. However, during this same exact time, the Supreme Court also ruled that the statutes that were imposing a mandatory death penalty were still unconstitutional.

Later in 1976, the California Supreme Court ruled that the state’s death penalty statute was still unconstitutional because it did not permit the defendant to allow any mitigating evidence. After this happened 70 death row inmates had their sentence commuted.

It was not until the next year, that the statute was then updated to fix these issues. The statute updated it with the life in prison without the chance for parole as one of the punishments for all capital crimes. This was then again changed in 1978 when Proposition 7 passed. When Proposition 7 passed this allow the California Supreme Court to affirm or even reverse conviction and sentence without having to work their way through an intermediate appeal with the California Courts of Appeal.

The State Bar of California in 1983 created the California Appealed Project. This is a legal resource center that helps implements the constitutional right to counsel for the less fortunate people facing the death penalty.

During this time, Michael Millman was the director of the California Appealed Project. He was the director of the California Appealed Project for nearly 30 years.

1986 Elections

On election day in 1986, this is when three members of the California Supreme Court was voted out of the office by the California voters. This was after a high-profile campaign that took place. This campaign cited their opposition to the death penalty.

One of the three members of the California Supreme Court that was voted out was Chief Justice, Rose Bird. She was removed by a margin of 67 to 33 percent. Bird looked over at least 64 capital cases that were appealed in the California Supreme Court. In each case, she issued an overturning of the death penalty, that was put on during the trial. She was not the only one. She had help from at least another 3 members of the California Supreme Court to help overturn another 61 cases. This led a great debate stating that she was using her own ideas and opinions for the laws instead of what she should be following.

Reinstatement of Executions & the Start of Lethal Injection

Back in April of 1992, the state of California performed their first execution since their last one in 1967. This execution that happened on April 21, 1992, was for Robert Alton Harris. He was convicted of murdering two teenage kids in San Diego, California. The reason it took so long for Harris to officially be put to death he went through 4 stays of execution that was in place by the Ninth Circuit appeal court. This caused the United States Supreme Court to step in and prohibit the federal courts from intervening any further. This was a ruling that essentially made it out that the lower court’s decision was just another abusive delay and attempt to manipulate the justice system.

It was not until January of 1993 when the available options of execution were expanded. Now the state of California had lethal gas as their primary option, but now they could also do lethal injection as well if the inmate chooses.

David Mason was the first inmate to not have a preference. Mason was then execution by lethal gas back in August of 1993.

In 1996, following another legal battle in the Ninth Circuit Appeal Court, lethal gas was no longer used as it was suspended. The only other option at the time was lethal injection. William Bonin, a serial killer was the first death row inmate to be executed by lethal injection on February 23, 1996.

Only 13 death row inmates have been executed in the state of California since the state reinstated the death penalty back in 1977. However, 121 death row inmates died while waiting on death row. Out of the 121 death row inmates, only 26 of them committed suicide as of April 2019.

Lethal Injection Process

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of the state of California, the state witnesses their two famous executions within 5 weeks of one another. The first one being in December 2005 with Stanley Tookie Williams and in January 2006 Clarence Ray Allen.

It was not until a month later in February 2006 when the United States District Court Judge Jeremy D. Fogel stopped the execution of Michael Morales. This was stopped due to a lawsuit that was against the lethal injection process.

They were arguing about the three-drug lethal injection process that was not administered correctly. It could certainly lead to severe suffering, while it was a cruel and unusual punishment even for death row inmates. This issue was brought up and injunction with the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. They stated that the execution-only performed by a medical technician that is authorized to use these intravenous medications. Ultimately this led to the de facto moratorium of the death penalty in the state of California because they were not able to locate a licensed medical professional to perform these.

In late 2010, when the state of California was going to execute Albert Greenwood Brown, Judge Fogel decided not to stay it. Fogel stated that the efforts from the state of California were complying with his previous ruling. However, the 9th Circuit Appeal Court did not agree with Fogel to the point that they vacated the judgment, which leads to even more delays when it came to eh executions within the state of California.

Studies of the California Death Penalty

The California Supreme Court proposed back in 2007 that the state of California adopt one of the constitutional amendments that would permit the assignment of capital appeals to the court of appeals to help relieve some backlog they were experiencing.

There were many victims’ families that testified when it comes to the California Commission on the Fair of Justice opposing the death penalty. They explained while they suffered from a great and severe loss that they did not believe that this was morally acceptable and the amount of money that they would be spending on executions could be better used for solving old cold cases that the State of California has yet to solve.

In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice stated that after reviewing everything that is currently under the death penalty system, that the death sentences are highly unlikely to be carried out. They are unlikely to be carried out since they have an excessive delay and severe backlog within the California Supreme Court. As the California Supreme Court is the court that reviews all the death judgments. The state of California has one of the longest delays within the United States. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice urged to reform this, so they can expedite the appeal process.

In 2011, there was another study that was released. This study showed that since 1978 the death penalty cost the state of California nearly $4 billion. Arthur Alarcon released an article in 2011 that stated long-time judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal stated they were going to reinstate the death penalty back in 1978, but the state of California only executed 13 death row inmates but cost the taxpayers nearly $4 million.

2015 California Lawsuit

It was not until February of 2015 when the Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Shelleenne Chang stated that the California law forces the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to form a new way to execute inmates with the lethal injection. Then later that very same year, the new protocol was a single-drug lethal injection method. This was so the state of California could comply with this ruling.

This new protocol was a result thanks to a lawsuit that was started by family members of the murder victims. Many supporters of the death penalty were blaming the three-year wait on for the new protocol an “a lack of will” and attempted to save the death penalty as many thought they were trying to be impractical and wanted to repeal because of practicality.

Propositions 62 & 66

Then on November 8, 2016, the state of California voted on two initiatives about the death penalty. These were known as Proposition 62, which abolish the death penalty; and Proposition 66, which would streamline the death penalty process, but also require these death row inmates to work inside the jail to pay restitution to the families of the victims. The California Supreme Court issued that   66 to take in effect after the final decision in the California Supreme Court which was 5-2. This happened the following year in August of 2017.

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