Death penalty abolition measure cleared by AG

The state Attorney General’s office has cleared for petition circulation a proposed ballot initiative that would abolish California’s death penalty, replacing it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Here’s the AG’s title and summary, released yesterday:

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL. INITIATIVE STATUTE. 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. Requires persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them. Creates $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net savings to the state and counties that could amount to the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis due to the elimination of the death penalty. One-time state costs totaling $100 million from 2012-13 through 2015-16 to provide funding to local law enforcement agencies. (11-0035.)

The proponents have until March 19 to gather the valid signatures of at least 504,760 registered California voters in order to put this initiative on the November 2012 ballot.

This is the measure that popped up after state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, withdrew her similar bill in August, saying she couldn’t find the legislative votes to move it forward.

The California Taxpayers for Justice committee backing this “Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement (SAFE) for California Act” will roll out its petition signature gathering drive next week with press conferences Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego featuring “law enforcement leaders, murder victim family members, exonerated persons and notable campaign supporters.”

Among those speaking Tuesday in San Francisco will be 8th District Supervisor Scott Weiner; Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin State Prison and now Death Penalty Focus’s executive director and this initiative’s proponent; Maurice Caldwell, released in March after serving 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit; Deldelp Medina, whose aunt was murdered by her first cousin; and Lorrain Taylor of Oakland, founder of 1,000 Mothers to Prevent Violence and mother of twins Albade and Obadiah who were gunned down in 2000 at age 22 in a still-unsolved case.

And speakers in San Jose on Thursday will include SAFE California statewide campaign manager Natasha Minsker, who directs the ACLU of Northern California’s death penalty policy; retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell; John Starbuck, both the grandson and grandfather of murder victims, in separate cases; retired police officer Steven Fajardo; and Mary-Kay Raftery of San Jose, mother of a murdered law enforcement officer.

Hancock’s bill had been opposed by groups including Crime Victims United of California and the California District Attorneys Association; they and others almost certainly will oppose this proposed initiative, too.

A Field Poll released late last month found 68 percent of voters favor retaining the death penalty for serious crimes, 27 percent favor abolishing it, and 5 percent have no opinion. However, the poll also found more voters now prefer life in prison without the possibility of parole over the death penalty for someone convicted of first degree murder by a 48 percent to 40 percent margin. The poll had a 3.2-percentage-point margin of error.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • As the Attorney General’s summary very fairly notes, the SAFE California Act will save ten of millions of dollars each year while strengthening law enforcement and establishing a uniform and swiftly enforced penalty for our worst murders of life without parole — already a part of California law — while strengthening the requirement for labor and restitution to victims and their families. Actually “tens of millions” may be a cautious estimate of the savings: recent studies suggest savings in the range of $125-184 million annually. Whatever the exact figures, the initiative will make California a safer and fiscally more viable place to live.

  • For Liberty

    From SF Gate.com (2004):
    “San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris said Tuesday she will not seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing a San Francisco police officer over the weekend, a decision that legal experts say is rare if not unprecedented in California. Instead, Harris said she will charge David Hill, 21, with crimes that could send him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Hill is suspected of killing Officer Isaac Espinoza, 29, with an assault weapon and wounding his partner, Officer Barry Parker, 38.”

    As noted in the above article, this initiative is in line with Harris’ nature, which she has demonstrated before in the case involving SF Police Officer, Isaac Espinoza. Harris’ decision in Hill’s behalf was a total slap in the face of the Espinoza family, the SF Police Dept. and for Law Enforcement in general across CA.

    Hill knew what he was doing, when he chose to gun down Espinoza. Espinoza went to work that day, knowing the dangers of his job, but did not know it would be his last day.

    When it comes to supporting our CA men and women in law enforcement, in the Hill case, Harris chose her political aspirations and correctness over those who are on the streets each day and night to protect us. Those like Officer Espinoza who run in to danger, when shots are fired.

    Thanks to Harris, that scum bucket, Hill, clogs our prison system, waiting to be rehabilitated by making license plates, while Espinoza lies six foot under.

    Rest in peace, Officer Espinoza. I will never forget!

  • John W

    Re: #2

    The AG’s legal approval of the proposed ballot measure has nothing to do with her personal opposition to the death penalty or her decision in the case of Officer Espinoza’s murder. Even an AG who was a strong death penalty supporter would have been required to approve the ballot measure absent any legal grounds for not doing so. I’ve been against the death penalty since first becoming aware of it as an issue at age 13 in connection with the Chessman case here in California. However, I do believe the deterrence and public safety arguments carry more weight in the case of killing cops, judges or public officials.

  • joseywalesz

    The cost to taxpayers to feed and house admitted murderers , when we could fix little kids teeth , money to do good things for the population is wasted on lawyers fees to save admitted criminals of their wrong dooings . What should we spend our money on , fixing a little kids teeth … or protecting a thug murderer from the death penalty that they deserve ,Reinstate the death penalty I vote for helping kids , Fry the gang bangers and thugs Sub humans that are … They ae so common it seems normal to the freakos . trash is not a endangered thing .