The following comes from a November 7 story on

Proposition 34, an initiative to repeal California’s seldom-used but politically potent death penalty law, was defeated when a majority of voters said they favor capital punishment.

With 98 percent of the vote counted Wednesday morning, 52 percent of California voters said they weren’t ready to do away with the ultimate punishment.

The measure would have reduced the maximum sentence for capital murder to life in prison without the possibility of parole and would have applied retroactively to the more than 720 condemned inmates on the nation’s largest death row.

It was the first statewide vote on the issue since 1978, when a 71 percent majority approved expansion of a death penalty law that legislators had passed the previous year over Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto.

That campaign focused on whether murderers deserved to be executed. The Prop. 34 campaign, by contrast, stressed the financial costs of the state’s death penalty – $184 million a year, according to one study – and the structural paralysis of its system.

Since executions resumed in the state in 1992, only 13 inmates have been put to death. Executions have been on hold in California since 2006, when a federal judge ordered the state to improve staff training and procedures for lethal injections. The injunction has granted a reprieve to more than a dozen prisoners who have no further appeals.

Inmates spend typically 25 years on the state’s Death Row, nearly twice the national average. The leading causes of death among condemned prisoners are illness and suicide.

With public support for capital punishment declining nationally, apparently in response to falling crime rates and DNA exonerations of death row inmates, death penalty laws have been repealed in the last five years by a court in New York and by legislatures in New Jersey, Illinois, New Mexico and Connecticut.

No state has discarded the death penalty by initiative since Oregon voters did so in 1964, only to reverse themselves 14 years later.

California opinion polls have shown strong support for the death penalty for the most heinous murders. But when survey questions differ, so do the answers – for example, a slight majority considers life without parole to be appropriate for murder.

Prop. 34’s sponsors, longtime death penalty opponents including religious liberals and the American Civil Liberties Union, called the measure the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement Act.

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