In 1776, Founding Father Thomas Paine wrote of the supremacy of law over the whims of individuals in a free society. We have come to think of the rule of law as the utmost of guiding principles in shaping a just government for all. That rule of law, and the balance it creates through our three branches of government, gives the people the final voice of authority in determining the laws by which we all must live.
Article II, Section I, of the California Constitution states, "All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their protection, security, and benefit, and they have the right to alter or reform it when the public good may require." Article V, Section I states, "The supreme executive power of this State is vested in the Governor. The Governor shall see that the law is faithfully executed."
There have been at least four times in the recent history of California when the people of California could have voted to abolish the death penalty through the initiative process. They did not. Proposition 17 and Proposition 66, each passed by the people, authorized the death penalty in California. Propositions 34 and 62, both attempts to abolish the death penalty, were defeated. Additionally, three California Supreme Court justices were removed by the people of California because of the justices' categorical opposition to the rule of law in California as it related to the death penalty.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office opposes Governor Gavin Newsom's announced moratorium on California's death penalty. We are certain that the governor is fundamentally and fervently opposed to the death penalty. That is his right. Despite his personal beliefs, Governor Newsom has a duty to uphold the law, including California's death penalty statutes which voters have upheld since at least 1978.
The problem with the moratorium is that the people in California have made a reasonable and analytical case in favor of the death penalty and the death penalty is the law in California. The rule of law gives the people notice, consistency, and reliance upon that which we can and cannot do in society. The rule of law provides expectations, due process and finality when it comes to our justice system.
The people who rely upon the rule of law includes the families and loved ones of murder victims. They have relied upon a death sentence imposed by jurors in a criminal case. To them, the rule of law becomes meaningless when a unilateral decision by the governor removes that which the families have relied upon for decades for closure and some measure of justice.
We are certain that the families of Christopher Hughes, and Douglas, Peggy and Jessica Ryen, which includes surviving victim Josh Ryen, who survived the massacre, all murdered by death row inmate Kevin Cooper, fundamentally and fervently believe in the death penalty. It remains the one precept to which they can still point in the belief that, as it remains the law repeatedly upheld by the people of California, a just outcome might be reached after decades of due process. They and countless other victims' family members have waited for decades through the extensive review process these cases receive from the State and Federal Courts. Unfortunately, the Hughes and Ryen families' faith in the law, as well as the faith of the numerous families victimized by the 734 other killers on death row, is only eroded when they find out about the moratorium from a radio news station and not from the Governor's Office.
The governor's fiat on the death penalty does not respect the initiative decisions of the people of California or the rule of law. We all, prosecutors, victims, law enforcement, defense attorneys and defendants, rely upon that rule of law to give notice, meaning and justice to our society. That is why our office opposes the moratorium.
Governor Gavin Newsom Orders a Halt to the Death Penalty in California
Executive order declares a moratorium on executions of California’s 737 inmates on death row
Governor Newsom also orders a withdrawal of California’s lethal injection protocol and calls for the immediate closure of the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison
The order does not provide for the release of any individual from prison or otherwise alter any current conviction or sentenceSACRAMENTO –- Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order today placing a moratorium on the death penalty in California. The executive order also calls for withdrawing California’s lethal injection protocols and immediately closing the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison. The order does not provide for the release of any individual from prison or otherwise alter any current conviction or sentence.
“The intentional killing of another person is wrong and as Governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual,” said Governor Newsom. “Our death penalty system has been, by all measures, a failure. It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation. It has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent. It has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars. Most of all, the death penalty is absolute. It’s irreversible and irreparable in the event of human error.”
There are 737 people currently on death row in California. California has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere — one in four people on death row in the United States are in California.
The death penalty is unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities, and people who cannot afford costly legal representation. More than six in ten people on California’s death row are people of color. A 2005 study found that those convicted of killing whites were more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death as those convicted of killing blacks and more than four times as likely as those convicted of killing Latinos. At least 18 of the 25 people executed in the U.S. in 2018 had one or more of the following impairments: significant evidence of mental illness; evidence of brain injury, developmental brain damage, or an IQ in the intellectually disabled range; chronic serious childhood trauma, neglect, and/or abuse.
Innocent people have been sentenced to death in California. Since 1973, 164 condemned prisoners nationwide, including five in California, have been freed from death row after they were found to have been wrongfully convicted. No person has been executed since 2006 because California’s execution protocols have not been lawful. Yet today, 25 California death row inmates have exhausted all of their state and federal appeals and could be eligible for an execution date.
Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion on a death penalty system that has executed 13 people. Three states — Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania — have Governor-imposed moratoria on the death penalty and in 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional and “racially biased.”