California Retains Death Penalty by Narrow Margin
On November 6, 2012, California’s Proposition 34, an initiative to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, was narrowly defeated by a vote of 53% to 47%. Although the result means the death penalty will continue in the state, the percent of voters supporting repeal represents a dramatic shift away from capital punishment. The referendum, which indicated just more than half of voters are in favor of keeping the death penalty, follows a broader trend of diminishing public support for the punishment. By contrast, the 1978 ballot initiative that enacted California’s death penalty statute passed with the support of 71% of the voters. California’s use of the death penalty has declined in recent years. Death sentences in California dropped from 40 in 1981 to 10 in 2011. California has not carried out an execution since 2006. Among the leading proponents of Proposition 34 were Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin Prison, Gil Garcetti, the former District Attorney of Los Angeles County, and Donald Heller, a former prosecutor who drafted the 1978 death penalty initiative.