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California Governor Announces Moratorium on Capital Punishment

by Bill Barton 

Governor Gavin Newsom granted a temporary reprieve for the 737 prisoners on California death row as of March 13, 2019. 

“I think this would be a bold step,” said Michael D. Rushford, president of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, “and I think he’s got to be aware of the political downside.”

The New York Times reported that “Supporters of capital punishment said the move went against the will of the state’s residents. California voters have rejected an initiative to abolish the death penalty and in 2016, they approved Proposition 66 to help speed it up.” 

Rushford also said, “Voters have had multiple opportunities in California over three decades to abandon the death penalty and they’ve shut them down at every chance.” 

“A moratorium in California has enormous symbolic value,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “It’s part of the momentum we are seeing.” Three states—Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania—have issued similar moratoria. Last year, Washington became the 20th state to end capital punishment, when the state Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional following a moratorium issued by the governor. 

Stephanie Faucher of the 8th Amendment Project, an organization that opposes the death penalty, said  “[A moratorium is] functionally a series of reprieves.” In order to commute death sentences to life in prison, Governor Newsom would need approval from the California Supreme Court. 

According to The New York Times, “Opponents of the death penalty, including Mr. Newsom, have long argued that the practice is rife with racial disparities and is not justified by the high cost to state taxpayers. One study, in 2011, found that California pays $184 million a year to sustain capital punishment—or close to an accumulated $5 billion since the practice was reinstituted in 1978.” 

In response to Governor Newsom’s reported moratorium, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers. Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!” 



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