Should California end the death penalty or speed it up?

If you’ve moved to California recently, you might not realize its one of 30 states with the death penalty—because, these days, no one’s being executed. This November, voters will decide if they want to speed up the death penalty appeals process…or get rid of the death penalty altogether. 

More than a decade ago, a judge ordered executions to stop until the state changed its execution method. Since then, California’s death row has swelled to nearly 750 people, the largest in the country. And even before 2006, when executions did take place, death row appeals still took decades. 

A victim waits 

Back in 1996, Mark Klaas stood up in a courtroom, and asked that Richard Allen Davis–the man who kidnapped and murdered his daughter Polly– be executed. 

“The honorable way out for him would be to commit suicide. It’s the least he can do to alleviate our pain,” he said. “But since he doesn’t have the courage to take that step, the state is placed in the terrible position to make that decision for him.” 

Flash forward twenty three years to today. His daughter’s killer is still appealing his sentence.

“My kid…needs peace in death. And as long as that sickness is running through his mind, then, she’s not receiving the peace that she deserves,” Klaas says. “It’s only when he’s eliminated, only when he’s gone, that Polly’s memory will no longer be soiled.” 

Prop 66 and a faster death penalty 

Davis’ execution isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. In 2006, a judge ordered California to stop all executions and review the state’s lethal injection protocol. Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson says the death penalty is frozen despite popular support. Four years ago, Californians voted to keep the death penalty.

“Their will is being thwarted, because of people who are philosophically opposed to the death penalty…including the legislatures, members of our administration, and lawyers that thwart the death penalty at every step,” Peterson says.  

While death penalty advocates can’t force executions to take place, they’re hoping they might be able to speed up the appeal process. Enter Prop 66, the ballot measure that would put a five year deadline on death penalty appeals. 

“The average time for someone to, after they receive a death verdict by a jury, until they receive an execution date, is 25 years,” Peterson says. “So, it is a system that’s broken, and Prop 66 is the attempt, by law enforcement, to fix the process.” 

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