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Calling capital punishment “ineffective, irreversible and immoral,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order on Tuesday all but abolishing the death penalty in the Golden State for the foreseeable future.
Newsom joins governors in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Colorado who have recently imposed moratoriums on carrying out state-sponsored executions. His order issues a temporary reprieve to the state’s 737 death row inmates but does not commute those sentences to life imprisonment. It does, however, end the state’s efforts to develop a legally-acceptable drug cocktail to carry out death sentences and dismantles the execution chamber at San Quentin prison.
The directive is likely to face legal challenges from death penalty supporters and victims’ right groups. It is also likely to spark another ballot measure asking voters to end capital punishment. Voters have rejected two such measures in the last six years, and in 2016 endorsed one (Proposition 66) to speed up the carrying out of death sentences.
Newsom cited investigations that show since 1973, 164 death row prisoners nationwide have been later proven innocent. He also cited a study showing the disparity in death sentences handed out to minorities over whites, particularly when it is a person of color accused of killing a white person.
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation legal director Kent Scheidegger accused Newsom of “abuse of power,” saying the governor lacked the constitutional authority to end efforts to devise a new lethal injection protocol and shut down death chambers.
“He’s following in the footsteps of other governors who abused this power because they were frustrated by a law that they just personally disagreed with,” Scheidegger told the Los Angeles Times.
In spite of the failures in the past, Assemblymember Marc Levine (D) said he wants to ask voters one more time to abolish capital punishment. He introduced a constitutional amendment that, if approved by lawmakers, would go before voters in 2020.
Newsom said he would support that measure.
“I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said in a prepared statement. “In short, the death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian.” (SNCJ, LOS ANGELES TIMES, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, SACRAMENTO BEE)