Prop 34 Cheat Sheet: Death Penalty Repeal

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Say goodbye to the death penalty in California if this proposition gets a majority yes-vote from voters. And not only would it apply to future murder convictions, but also past ones, meaning those serving on death row will shift to life in prison without possibility of parole term. These and future inmates will be put to work with earnings going to "any victim restitution fines or orders against them," according to the official state summary. Additionally, a one-time $100-million fund will help law enforcement agencies solve more homicide and rape cases. If the prop succeeds, it will become effective the day after the election.

Who & What it Affects

It the proposition succeeds, the law will go into effect the day after the election, making California the 18th state without the death penalty, and the 725 people on death row would avoid its punishment and instead serve a life term without the possibility of parole.

There are arguments on both sides of the issues regarding this. Does the death penalty really stop someone from committing murder? "I've always said that I cannot envision that somebody contemplating murder sits at the kitchen table and says 'I'm not going to commit a murder because I could face the death penalty', but I will if I only face life imprisonment without parole," retired U.S. Circuit Court justice H. Lee Sarokin told NBC Los Angeles.

State Budget
The official analysis by the state's Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance say savings to state and local government "could" be in the high tens of millions of dollars each year, but proponents say it's more.

Who's Behind It?

The Team
The proposition is an initiative statute, which means it was initiated by someone in the public, in this case, Jeanne Woodford, the former warden of San Quentin Prison in Northern California. Her coalition, SAFE California (named after their title of the act, the "Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act"), includes Don Heller, who helped write the ballot initiative that reinstated California's death penalty back in 1978 ("I made a terrible mistake 33 years ago," he says), Ron Briggs, who worked with Heller on the '78 proposition, former L.A. County District Attorney Gil Garcetti, and numerous others, including a police office, family members with loved ones lost to murder, and two who faced the death penalty before exoneration.

The Funders
Money for this prop swelled early on. As of July 9, funding in support of repealing the death penalty was close to $3 million. Top donors include Nicholas Pritzker ($500,000) of Hyatt hotel chain legacy, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings ($250,000), and Quinn Delaney ($250,000) of the Akonadi Foundation, which focuses on social justice issues. Other donations of note include nearly $325,000 from the ACLU, split between five California chapters; five Google employees have given over $180,000 total; and Stanford electrical engineering professor Nick McKeown has donated over $185,000. All this and more can be seen in our Prop 34 campaign finance database.

Who's Against It?
Unlike financial support, opposition as of July 9 was not as strong with nearly $40,000 in donations. Most -- $25,000 -- came from the Peace Officers Research Association of California Political Issues Committee. The full list of contributors can be found in our Prop 34 funding database.

Top Photo: California State Prison at San Quentin | Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


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The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at


The Death Penalty is irreversible; the criminal cannot get a reprieve or get out of prison. The evil one got what he or she deserved. However, if Prop 34, the Death Penalty Repeal proposition passes, the evil ones never have to fear death. To me, it sends a message to the evil community, if you kill, do it in California and they will give you room, board and healthcare for life.

With no death penalty, the evil ones have a chance, however slight, of seeing the outside again. Earthquakes could open doors to the condemned allowing escape; liberal weak-kneed liberal Democrats can pass laws to forgive the murderers, and lame-brain propositions like Prop 34 could eventually free the evil ones on "Death Row."

As for the cost being high for the death penalty, "So What?" The costs be damned when it comes to executing people that committed heinous crimes.

I will bet that folks would contribute money for the death penalty if the state is incompetent in managing the state purse. People, in my opinion, would step up and do the job pro bono.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if politicians actually pushed for the death penalty and gave rewards to folks that contribute cost-cutting measures to fight the alleged high cost of the death penalty?

Vote NO on Prop 34.


COST OF DEATH PENALTY: It seems counter-intuitive that it’s cheaper to jail prisoners for the rest of their lives than to have the death penalty, but it is plainly true. Here’s why. A death penalty system includes these gigantic costs:
(1) Longer and far more costly trials. There’s a second trial, on what the penalty should be, life without parole versus death, that is commonly as long as or longer than the original trial. It costs a lot of money to pay lawyers to prepare for trials like this, and it costs money to run a courtroom where the trial takes place—for example, the salary of the judge, the bailiff, court reporter, courthouse security, lawyers for both sides, investigators and expert witnesses on things like was the defendant brain-damaged, and the effect of having been abused as a child, etc. In an ordinary trial, a defendant with no money (which is nearly all criminal defendants) gets only one lawyer; in death cases, he gets two. Jury selection is longer, and the cases are more complicated and hard-fought. All this means it probably costs 10 to 20 times more to do a capital trial than a normal murder trial.
(2) In about half of these trials, the jury decides on life anyway. After hearing all the evidence, the jury decides that a sentence of life without the possibility of parole is a harsh enough punishment about 50% of the time, so – in effect – taxpayers are paying all of these longer-trial costs at least twice for each conviction. And meaning that in half the cases, after all this expense, murderers are being punished by precisely the harsh punishment they would get under Proposition 34 without all these costs.
(3) The cost of appeals in also staggering—again, lawyers for both sides, the appellate courts, investigators and expert witnesses in habeas proceedings considering whether there was evidence the jury should have heard on whether the defendant was really guilty, or whether life or death is the right punishment. These go on for many years in both state and federal court, occupying the courts and attorneys. That’s what happened in the case in which I represented someone on death row for 22 years. At the end of that time, a federal appeals court concluded the evidence undermined confidence that the defendant was the actual killer, and set aside the death penalty. Afterward, the District Attorney decided not to seek death again.
(4) Cost of re-trials. Though the California Supreme Court has been very pro-death in recent decades, the federal courts – including many Republican-appointed judges – have overturned most of the death verdicts. Meaning all of the above costs have been for nothing, and there’s the cost of doing it all over again when the cases are re-tried.
(5) Cost of death penalty housing. This involves special facilities with greater security, more guards, etc., making it nearly three times more costly to keep someone on death row than on a regular prison yard. Since condemned inmates are on death row for many, many years before they are executed or die of natural causes, it’s likely costlier than to just keep them in regular cells for life.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS COME TO? The Legislative Analyst estimates getting rid of the death penalty system would save California $130 Million a year! We could use that money to make us safer! A study by Senior Federal Court of Appeal Judge Alarcon estimates that California has spent more than $4 Billion on the death penalty since 1978—which comes to $307 Million per execution. We just can’t afford the death penalty, even leaving aside things like the risk of executing innocent people.


@Lee: Ayup, the Death Penalty is Irreversible. Innocent people wrongly convicted cannot get a reprieve or get out of prison. With no death penalty, those wrongly convicted have a chance, however slight, of seeing the outside again.

@Mitchell: Nicely written. Thanks.


Thanks for your comments. At this moment, the fate of my clients and my life is in the voter's hands. You see, I am one of those people who make my living because of the Death Penalty. I do the research that helps defense attorneys present mitigating evidence to argue for a sentence less than death for their DP clients. If the death penalty prop passes, I will be unemployed. I may lose my house, my savings and my health insurance. Still, I voted against the death penalty. I have also spoken out against it since I've been doing this work. I can't in conscience do anything less, even if it means I may lose my livelihood.

As someone intimately connected with the issues of the death penalty, I have to tell you . . . if you could walk for one mile in the shoes of most of my clients, you too would vote to repeal the death penalty. Too many innocent people are in prison, including Death Row, because of shoddy police work, incompetent attorneys, corrupt judges, flawed evidence, "eye-witness" identification, tainted/coerced testimony, and much more. If you believe the "system" is fair and unbiased, you are living in Oz, not Los Angeles. I'm not saying the criminal justice system is racist; I'm saying it's so much WORSE than racist. It's horribly, terribly broken.

I must also comment on some truly erroneous statements I've read here and hear constantly about prison and prisoners. These statements take on the aura of truth because they get repeated so frequently and those who repeat and believe them don't bother to do the independent research. To find out the facts, don't read sources that are pushing an opinion; read the scholarly research in journals, and even on the CDCR (California Dept of Corrections) website. For example, you will find that the prisoners who recidivate the LEAST are those who have committed the most serious crimes, like murder. By contrast, those who have committed property crimes and drug crimes are most likely to recidivate. These are the people who have fixed term sentences, who do not have to face a parole board. They will simply be released at the end of their term and, because they have had NO rehabilitation in prison, they will likely commit those same crimes again.

By contrast, the "lifers" who have term-to-life sentences, and who are constantly denied parole by the Board of Parole Hearings, are least likely to recidivate, by a fraction of the rate of all others. "Lifers" are of negligible threat to the public safety, yet are the ones most irrationally scapegoated. Moreover, prison is not a comfortable, cushy place. It's overcrowded. Prisoners spend most of the time in their cells, with nothing to do but perhaps watch TV if they have one. If you think that's a great fate, then you haven't been locked in your guest bathroom with a TV and a stinky, snoring, profanity-spewing guy for 10 years. The food is really bad. There is little or no medical care. No education, no recreation. And, to top it off, you're always in danger of violence (sexual and otherwise) from inmates and on-edge staff people whose stressful jobs no one would want.

Any victim of crime has a good reason to be angry at the individual who victimized them, and even to wish for personal revenge. But a state system of revenge does not give the crime victim that satisfaction; in fact, the hate that comes out of some "crime victims" groups shows that the worst effect of being a crime victim is probably not the loss of money, health, or even their beloved family member, but rather the loss of trust, innocence and forgiveness. This is the very worst of injuries, the injury to the heart, mind and soul. Yes, I believe that punishment for crime is necessary, especially for the worst crimes, but punishment must have some limit. Otherwise, we become not punishers, but torturers. Furthermore, the worst crimes are not just physical violence. What about economic violence? Emotional violence? Why aren't some of the Wall Street dudes who profited from the suffering of millions of citizens in prison today?

It seems obvious that chronic poverty drives crime by creating hopelessness, limiting opportunity, isolating communities, stressing the psyche to the point of creating mental illness and self-medication through substance abuse, driving desperate competition for scarce resources and, finally, generating the feeling of being disrespected, rejected and cast-out. Shamed people become violent people because violence becomes the last resort to gain some version of "respect." Moreover, this damage is passed on, generation after generation.

I predict that a lot of those who are now voicing the harshest and least forgiving attitudes toward Death Row prisoners and prisoners in general will one day find themselves needing the compassion, forgiveness and second-chances that they are now denying others. Angry, vengeful people, in my experience, tend to attract harsh experiences. What goes around does come around. But when we pause to be HUMAN, we can mitigate against each other's suffering, and that can't ever be a bad thing. Because, really now . . . if we actually enjoy someone's suffering, what does that make us? For me, violence is a wrong, and every kind of violence is equally wrong. But evil? To me, between violence and hate, hate is closer to evil. But even hate can be healed. When you vote against the death penalty next week, consider that it is not an entirely unselfish act. Bank this act of compassion against the day that you might need someone to invest that compassion in you.


Prop. 34 proponents are perpetuating a huge FRAUD against California voters, knowing that with the millions of out-of-state dollars they can repeat their lies enough times that voters will begin to accept them. A Study by Judicial Watch concludes that Prop. 34 is “both disingenuous and deceptive.” Three former CA governors and every major law enforcement group in CA OPPOSE Pro. 34.

Pro. 34 is dangerous, will cost taxpayers more, and was poorly thought through.

Prop. 34 will NOT save money, but instead COST TAXPAYERS BILLIONS of dollars more in additional trials, prison changes, and escalating health care costs.

Claims that Prop. 34 will save money are based upon a paper written by a former judge who has been advocating for abolishing the death penalty for decades (neither unbiased nor accurate). A review of these numbers by the Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that the assumptions supporting these claimed savings “may well be wrong.” Michael Genest, former State Of California Finance Director, found that these “savings claims are grossly exaggerated.” Also, the loss of the threat of the death penalty will substantially increase the total number of murder trials by taking away a major incentive for murderers to plead guilty.

Also, Prop. 34 ignores the escalating costs of medical care for life-time inmates. Prop. 34 will cost CA taxpayers billions more over the next several years. (It is these huge medical costs that are fueling the attack on life sentences under 3-strikes under Prop. 36.)

Prop. 34 is DANGEROUS. Experts conclude that Pro. 34 will increase the number of murders in California. Criminals will be more brazen in their crimes without the death penalty. Also, there will be no deterrent for the 34,000 inmates already serving life from killing a guard or an inmate. They are already serving the maximum penalty.

One of the key methods for “saving” money under Prop. 34 is to move death row inmates into the general population and house them from single-person cells with other inmates. One strong proponent of Prop. 34 admits this is unworkable– the risk of danger posed by mixing the prison population is too great, and would increase costs associated with such an arrangement.

Life without parole is meaningless. They WILL GET OUT. Efforts are already being pursued by the same people supporting anti-punishment ballots and legislation to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving 25 years. Someone who has committed a brutal murder at age 20 could get out by age 45! Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Governors are also notorious for releasing inmates who should never be released. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps.

ARGUMENTS OF INNOCENCE BOGUS. Proponents can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. They can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. Quite simply, CA’s appellate process, designed by the very same people promoting Prop. 34, is 100% effective in weeding out the innocent. Every person Prop. 34 proponents refer to are either non-death-penalty cases or out-of-state cases where defendants do not get the benefit of CA’s appellate process.

Don’t get fooled by the bombardment of lies. See cadeathpenalty.webs. com/ and voteno34. org for more facts explaining why you should NOT SUPPORT Prop. 34.