The death penalty is the highest form of punishment our society can impose, making it extremely important that defendants being tried for this receive all of their civil rights protections in these cases. California's death row is the largest in the country, condemning over 700 prisoners. Since 1973, more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence, making the death penalty very controversial.
The history of capital punishment in California
- Capital punishment began in 1872 and then was declared unconstitutional in 1972. At that time 107 prisoners were re-sentenced.
- In 1977 the State Legislature reinstated the death penalty allowing capital punishment for first degree murders that meet specific circumstances.
- Up until 2000, voter initiatives have added 27 more circumstances that make murderer punishable by the death penalty.
- When capital punishment began, hanging was the method for execution.
- In 1937, the state of California replaced hanging with lethal gas.
- In 1993, the state began using lethal injection as the form of execution.
- According to the Death Penalty Information Center, over 75% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white.
Sentencing capital punishment in California
When being tried for the death penalty in California, the defendant must have committed first degree murder with one of the following circumstances:
- Prior murder convictions or more than one murder conviction
- Murder by use of a bomb or poison
- Murder of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, witness, judge, prosecutor, or jury member
- Murder involving torture
- Murder in connection with gang activity
- Murder in connection with another serious felony
It is up to the jury to decide whether the defendant will get the death sentence or life in prison. They must weigh the factors that work against the defendant with the factors that help the defendant's case. If there are more factors working against the defendant, they will typically be sentenced to death.
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