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Broken Beyond Repair

California’s death penalty is many things – but rarely is it deadly.

For many people it is puzzling to learn that death row inmates are more likely to die of old age or infirmity than to be executed. But there are important reasons why that is the case. Most significant, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the Constitution requires extra protections in death penalty cases— protections not required for those sentenced to life imprisonment without parole—to ensure that we do not mistakenly execute an innocent person or send someone to their death just because they are poor.

In contrast, murder cases in which the prosecution seeks life without possibility of parole have none of these special requirements. Instead, such trials are conducted like any other criminal trial and usually are completed in a matter of weeks. A prisoner sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is also entitled to only one tax-payer funded appeal, a process that is usually completed within 18 months after conviction.