THE ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT
California is one of 30 states in which the death penalty is legal. In the last election, California voters voted to keep capital punishment legal (Proposition 62) and, beyond that, voted to speed up the process (Proposition 66). Proposition 62 would have replaced the punishment for those convictions under which a person could be sentenced to death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The California voters soundly defeated this proposition with 53% of the voters voting nay. A corollary proposition, Prop 66, approved by 51% of the voters, shortens the time a death row inmate can take to appeal his or her sentence to a maximum of five years. Opponents of Proposition 66 have filed a lawsuit in the Californian Supreme Court challenging the legality of Proposition 66. That lawsuit is pending.
So what is the fate of an estimated 750 death row inmates presently sitting out their time in California prisons? The last time a person was executed in California was in January 2006, when 76 year old Clarence Ray Allen was put to death by lethal injection. A month after Mr. Allen’s execution, the U.S. District Court blocked a scheduled execution after a lawsuit was filed challenging the lethal injection protocol as cruel and unusual punishment. Since this challenge, there has been an almost eleven year stay on lethal injections in California. That stay was challenged in 2010, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruled that the stay continued to apply. Even though no one has been executed in this state since 2006, prosecutors continue to ask for the death penalty and new death row inmates are added to the prison population every year.