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Prop. 34: Debating California’s initiative to ban the death penalty

A view of the California State Prison at San Quentin May 15, 2009. San Quentin houses California's male death row.
A view of the California State Prison at San Quentin May 15, 2009. San Quentin houses California's male death row.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Proposition 34, a measure on the November 6th ballot, would replace California’s death penalty with life without parole. Proponents of the bill say that the switch would save the state tens of millions of dollars every year, and potentially correct unjust racial imbalances in sentencing.

The choice may seem obvious for voters who oppose the death penalty, but some opponents of Prop. 34 say that the funding cuts proposed in the bill eliminate many of the options that death row inmates currently have, including access to a lawyer to help prove their innocence. Inmates would have to file their own claims, rely on volunteers, or petition a judge to order the state to pay for legal costs.

They may not be able to vote, but some of California’s 725 death row inmates also oppose the bill – many said they would rather protect the death penalty and the funding that grants them legal aid than spend life in prison. Donations have rolled in consistently from supporters of Prop. 34, but a recent poll says that only 42% of voters favor the measure.

Prop Breakdown

Official Title — End the Death Penalty Initiative

  • Repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

  • Apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.

  • Require persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.

  • Create a $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

  • Should California overturn the death penalty? How would the financial details of the proposition affect inmates and citizens? With hundreds of convictions being overturned by groups like the Innocence Project, is it ethical to restrict access to lawyers for prisoners with lifelong sentences?


    Gil Garcetti, Yes on 34 campaign; former District Attorney of Los Angeles

    Steve Cooley, No on 34 campaign; current District Attorney of Los Angeles County