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Capital Punishment in California

California Death Penalty Laws, Facts, History and Information


Recently, Proposition 34—known by lawmakers as the 'Death Penalty. Initiative Statute'—has once again raised the specter of the contentious capital punishment debate. Let's take a look at the what the measure has proposed, and at the death penalty in California in general, and its history and facts.

Proposition 34: Repeal the Death Penalty

Quite simply, this proposition proposes getting rid of capital punishment for people found guilty of murder, and replacing this maximum sentence with life imprisonment without parole. It would apply to people already on death row.

It would require inmates convicted of murder to work whilst in prison, and mandate that the wages from that labor be used as 'victim restitution fines.'

The proposition also aims to create a $100 million fund that would be distributed to law enforcement to help solve more rape and homicide cases.

Death Penalty in California Timeline

  • 1872 - The capital punishment law is authorized in the state's Penal Code, stating that hangings should take place in San Quentin State Prison and Folsom State Prison.
  • 1893 - The first execution for murder takes place in California in San Quentin (Jose Gabriel).
  • 1971 - Charles Manson and three members of his 'family' are sentenced to death in Los Angeles, found guilty of the 1969 murders of seven people (including actress Sharon Tate) and one unborn child.
  • February 17, 1972 - The California Supreme Court abolishes the death penalty on the grounds that it's contrary to the state's Constitution and constitutes 'cruel and unusual punishment.' The sentences of Manson and his followers are commuted to life imprisonment.
  • November 7, 1972 - Under Proposition 17, California voters reintroduce the death penalty by amending the state's Constitution.
  • 1976 - The Supreme Court of California holds that the state's capital punishment statute is unconstitutional as it did not permit a defendant to enter mitigating evidence. Sixty-eight prisoners have their sentences commuted to 'life.'
  • 1977 - The legislature re-enacts the death penalty.
  • 1978 - Proposition 7 passes, giving an automatic appeal to the Supreme Court of California which would affirm or reverse the sentence and conviction without having to apply for an intermediate appeal to the California Courts of Appeal.
  • 1992 - California actively resumes executions.
  • 1993 - Lethal injection is introduced as a method of execution.
  • 1994 - Lethal injection becomes the 'default' mode of execution.
  • January 17, 2006 - Last fulfilled death sentence execution of Clarence Ray Allen in San Quentin
  • December 16, 2006 - US District Judge Jeremy Fogel declares California's death penalty in violation of the Eighth Amendment (citing lethal injection protocols). Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declares a moratorium (delay/suspension of activity) on executions in California.

Capital Punishment in California Today

At the time of this article, California currently has 725 people on death row. Seven of those 725 are eligible for execution. California is one of 33 states that authorizes the death penalty.

Methods of Execution

While other states still list hanging and death by firing squad amongst their modes of execution, California employs lethal injection and the gas chamber. According to California Penal Code Section 3604:

"The punishment of death shall be inflicted by the administration of a lethal gas or by an intravenous injection of a substance or substances in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death, by standards established under the direction of the Department of Corrections."

Famous Death Penalty Cases

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