Capitol Alert

Is a plan to end the death penalty on the ropes in California?

5 things to know about California's death penalty measures

There are two competing measures about the death penalty: Proposition 62 and Proposition 66. Learn more about them and who supports which measure.
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There are two competing measures about the death penalty: Proposition 62 and Proposition 66. Learn more about them and who supports which measure.

A plurality of likely voters backs the latest ballot effort to repeal the death penalty in California and shutter the nation’s largest death row, but support remains below the 50 percent threshold needed, a new poll shows.

The survey, completed jointly by the Field Poll and the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, found Proposition 62 ahead 48 to 37 percent, with 15 percent of likely voters undecided.

Meanwhile, barely a third (35 percent) support Proposition 66, a competing initiative aimed at expediting the death-penalty process. With 42 percent undecided, it appears far less familiar to voters. Twenty-three percent are opposed.

The see-saw measures come four years after voters narrowly rejected Proposition 34, an initiative that would have replaced capital punishment with life in prison without parole. The Field Poll’s last survey of that measure, taken a week before the 2012 election, found it leading 45 to 38 percent.

Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll, said there are signs of encouragement for death-penalty opponents this time, despite hovering below a majority seven weeks before the Nov. 8 election.

“This is not a bad-news poll for Prop. 62,” DiCamillo added.

Critics of the death penalty have long considered the execution process too costly, inhumane and unfairly applied by race, region and economic class.

Proposition 62 would replace death sentences with life in prison without the possibility of parole and apply retroactively to existing death sentences.

Proposition 66 endeavors to speed up the process by requiring that appeals conclude within five years of sentencing. DiCamillo said there is “much greater confusion” about Proposition 66, adding, “Voters don’t fully understand what the impact is.”

If both measures pass, the one with the most votes will prevail.

 

The competing initiatives will be decided amid changing attitudes about capital punishment. The Field Poll, which over the years has tracked opinions about the death penalty, again asked about the preferred penalty for those convicted of first-degree murder.

It found that 55 percent of Californians favor life in prison without parole, with the remainder opting for the death penalty. In 2009, Field found a plurality saying they would rather see the death penalty imposed.

California’s last execution was in January 2006, with the state effectively halting executions over challenges to its lethal injection protocol.

Legislative hearings on 2016 two capital punishment ballot measures featured former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell against past NFL player and crime victim Kermit Alexander. Warning: Explicit language in the testimony. Video courtesy of the California

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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