Monday, November 18, 2013

California's Death Penalty: A Year in Review

By Adjunct Professor Paula Mitchell

This op-ed originally appeared on

On November 6, 2012, California voters narrowly defeated Proposition 34, a measure that would have replaced the state's death penalty with the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) as the state's most severe punishment. Prop 34 failed to pass by about 250,000 votes.

Opponents of Prop 34 used a classic political technique to defeat the measure: fear mongering. They told voters that "instead of justice, killers [would] get lifetime housing/healthcare benefits" if Prop 34 passed. Voters were urged to keep the current system of capital punishment in place to "Protect California." They convinced voters that the death penalty was needed to punish people like "Richard 'The Night Stalker' Ramirez [who] kidnapped, raped, tortured and mutilated 14 people and terrorized 11 more including children and senior citizens."

The voters were duped. On June 17, 2013, after nearly a quarter of a century on death row at great expense to taxpayers, Richard Ramirez died peacefully at Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, California, where he was receiving treatment for B-cell lymphoma.

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