California Governor Gavin Newsom suspended executions in California for as long as he remains Governor. However, he cannot repeal the death penalty. Only California voters can repeal the death penalty.
California lawmakers nonetheless continue to push to end the death penalty in California. Lawmakers also push to end the federal death penalty.
New Bill Introduced in California to End the State’s Death Penalty
Assemblyman Marc Levine introduced a bill that would end the state’s death penalty. If two-thirds of the Legislature approves the bill, the bill would be placed on the November 2024 ballot for voters to consider.
Approval of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 2 would prevent the death penalty from being imposed as a punishment for violating any state law. If voters approve the constitutional amendment, all individuals currently on death row would be resentenced.
At this time, California has the highest number of individuals in the United States on death row, with over 700 people waiting to be executed. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in California in 1978, only 13 inmates have been executed.
Currently, the method of execution in California is by lethal injection. However, the state has used several methods of execution, including the gas chamber, hanging, and possibly a firing squad. Opponents argue that all forms of execution are cruel and unusual punishment.
Recent Changes in Law Remove Age Threshold for Intellectually Disabled Facing Death Penalty
In recent death penalty news, California lawmakers worked to remove the age limit for someone who is intellectually disabled to face the death penalty. The Governor signed the bill into law on September 30, 2020. Under the new law, a person who is intellectually disabled cannot be sentenced to death row.
The old law had an age restriction. A mental health expert had to determine that the impairment was evident before the person reached 18 years. Otherwise, the person was eligible for the death sentence.
The new law opens the door for adults diagnosed with mental illness after becoming an adult to be exempted from being sentenced to death row. Current death row inmates may petition the court to reconsider their death sentence based on the new law.
The bill also prevents prosecutors in capital cases from making adjustments to tests measuring intellectual ability. They cannot adjust the test based on a person’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status, race, or national origin.
Pushing for an End to Federal Executions
In July 2019, United States Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to resume capital punishment. He also directed the Acting Director of the Bureau of Prisons to schedule the execution of five death-row inmates. The country had not executed a federal death-row inmate in almost 20 years.
Critics of President Trump and opponents of the death penalty called the surge in executions scheduled late in a presidency politically motivated. That led some lawmakers to call on President-Elect Biden to do something immediately to stop executions taking place.
Opponents of the death penalty are pushing for President Biden to abolish it. However, the President does not have the power to abolish the federal death penalty.
Therefore, several dozen lawmakers sent a letter to President-Elect Biden on December 15, 2021, calling on him to sign an executive order on his first day in office to place an immediate moratorium on federal executions. The lawmakers pledge to continue to work to obtain bipartisan support in Congress to pass a law that ends the death penalty.
The Debate About the Death Penalty Continues
In California and throughout the United States, individuals, groups, and lawmakers continue to argue about the death penalty’s effectiveness as a deterrent to criminal activity. Studies are mixed on the subject. You can find information and students that support each side’s opinion and position on the death penalty.
Some individuals oppose the death penalty based on religious or moral beliefs. Others claim that the death penalty is morally and religiously acceptable because they believe the punishment fits the crime.
The debate about the death penalty is likely to continue. To end the debate, states and the federal government need to ban the death penalty as a punishment for criminal activity. Whether the Biden Administration can push through legislation to end federal executions remains to be seen.
Whether California voters will vote to end the state’s death penalty also remains to be seen. They have voted down two previous attempts to remove the death penalty. If the above legislation makes it to the 2024 ballot, it will be the third time voters get to make their opinions heard.