Polling data from the last 50 years suggests that California voters would reject a measure abolishing the state death penalty if it ever came to the ballot, and yet Senate Bill 490 is proposing just that. On Thursday, the bill cleared its first legislative hearing, and if passed in the Senate, voters may be able to decide the issue in the November 2012 elections. The U.S. 9th Court of Appeals estimated that an end to capital punishment could save California $5 billion over a 20 year period by substituting life sentences for state execution. The figure seems attractive to many in light of the $4 billion that have been spent on administering the death penalty here since 1978, as well as the difficulties of the current fiscal climate. Supporters say also that official revenge through capital punishment neither makes the state safer nor provides much comfort to victims’ families. Opponents of the measure vociferously dispute these points, and argue that criminals will be less inclined to avoid shooting cops and others if they know they cannot be executed for their actions. Governor Jerry Brown, who has long opposed the death penalty, has not yet announced whether he will sign such a bill if it reaches his desk. State politicians too are weighing the risks of supporting such a controversial measure, since elections are approaching, and they are expected to be highly competitive. Why or why not should we ban capital punishment here? And can life sentencing provide the same degree of punishment that execution can?
Loni Hancock, (D-Berkeley) sponsor of SB 490
Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the California District Attorneys Association