Here's What You Need To Know About The Two Death Penalty Propositions On California's Ballot

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The never-used lethal injection room at San Quentin State Prison. (Wikimedia Commons)

So, there are two propositions relating to the death penalty on the California ballot. One of the propositions, Proposition 62, would officially end the practice of capital punishment in the state of California. The other, Proposition 66, would theoretically speed up the process of state execution.

California's voter initiative process is, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. Because our state's population is so large, and the signature threshold for a measure to be placed on the ballot is so low, we get lots of funky ballot propositions, many of which seem to contradict the other competing measures. Propositions 62 and 66 are good examples. Though Prop. 62 and Prop. 66 both relate to the death penalty, they are in essence opposites.

The backers of Prop. 62 argue that California's death penalty system is obsolete, dysfunctional and, above all, immoral. If passed, Prop. 62 would repeal the death penalty and modify the sentence of all 749 inmates currently on death row to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prop. 62 would also require prisoners sentenced to life without parole to work and pay restitution to the victims' families.

The California state Legislative Analyst's Office believes this would result in a $150 million annual saving after a few years, largely because the cost of keeping people on death row is so high.

The backers of Proposition 66 also argue that California's death penalty system is dysfunctional, though largely because the state hasn't executed anybody since 2006. Prop. 66 supporters argue that California's capital punishment system has become tied up in bureaucratic red tape, and needs to be fixed. If passed, Prop. 66 would keep the death penalty in place, and would theoretically speed up the process by which the state can execute people. Essentially, the proposition would put trial courts in charge of initial petitions that challenge death penalty convictions, and establish time limits during which a person could appeal a death sentence. Like Prop. 62, Prop. 66 would require inmates to work and pay restitution to victims' families, something they currently are not required to do.

Nevertheless, even if voters passed Prop. 66, there is no promise executions would promptly begin. Part of the reason California hasn't executed anyone in the past decade (and only 13 people since 1976) is because a litany of state and federal court decisions have called the whole process into question, usually through the U.S. Constitution's 8th Amendment (no cruel and unusual punishment). Though Prop 66. modifies how and when death row inmates can appeal their sentence, it does nothing to change the several court precedents inmates use to stall the capital punishment process. The Legislative Analyst's Office says the financial impact of Prop. 66 is unknown.

Basically the question comes down to whether or not you think it's appropriate for the judicial system to condemn someone to death. If you don't think the state should be allowed to sentence people to death, vote "Yes'" on Prop. 62 and "No" on Prop. 66. If you think capital punishment should continue—despite the fact that there is no evidence a potential death sentence deters criminals, and the fact that innocent people are killed—vote "No" on Prop. 62 and "Yes" on Prop. 66.