Capital Punishment Placed on Hold in California

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed an executive order placing a moratorium on capital punishment for the entirety of his tenure in office.

In addition to ending capital punishment, Newsom's order also eliminates California's lethal injection protocol and shuts down the execution chamber in San Quentin, where most death row inmates are imprisoned. Additionally, all 737 inmates facing execution will be granted a reprieve, postponing their punishment. It will not free any inmates currently on death row.

Gov. Newsom labeled the moratorium as the culmination of a personal 40 year journey, and classified the death penalty as, "ineffective, irreversible and immoral."

164 death row inmates have been released from prison nationwide after they were found wrongfully convicted over the past 45 years.California has the highest number of inmates in death row in the United States, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Newsom issued a statement along with the executive order:

"I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people."

The California Constitution authorizes the governor power to grant reprieves to inmates. Newsom's decision garnered praise among several fellow Democrats, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

However, not everyone is backing Newsom's executive order.President Donald Trump criticized Newsom's moratorium on Twitter:

"Defying voters, the Governor of California will halt all death penalty executions of 737 stone cold killers, Friends and families of the always forgotten VICTIMS are not thrilled, and neither am I!"

California State Sen. Jim Nielsen, a Republican who served on the California Board of Prisons for almost two decades, stated that the executive order is:

"An affront to our system of justice, California voters have spoken loudly and clearly, as recently as 2016, that the death penalty serves as a legal and appropriate punishment for those who commit vicious, evil crimes."

In 2016, Californians rejected an initiative to end capital punishment. Instead voters passed a measure to speed up executions.

Executions in California have ceased since 2006, after a condemned inmate challenged the state's protocol for lethal injection, which left California entangled in legal issues that persist to this day.

California joins Colorado, Pennsylvania and Oregon as the fourth state to place a moratorium on the death penalty.

Jason Schneck, Chaffey College Alternate Media Specialist and adviser of the PINTO Club, which helps students with legal issues find equal opportunity in education, spoke about Gov. Newsom's issues over the morality of capital punishment:

"The way Newsom is feeling about this, within a moral society, should we be putting people to death? That is a question that when you pose it that way, being that we are a civilized nation, a world leader, you want to immediately go, yeah maybe we shouldn't".

Schneck expressed he has "mixed feelings" towards the executive order, as he can also relate to those against the moratorium, stating:

"I absolutely understand his viewpoint, but when you put it into the context of the New Zealand shooting, the Las Vegas shooting, The Pulse Nightclub shooting, these were guys who killed 40, 50 people. For those families, until you have experienced that, it is hard to say that the family on the other side is wrong for wanting justice, that the person should pay the ultimate price."

The moratorium will be in place for the entirety of Gov. Newsom's term in office, his current term ends Jan. 2023. A future governor would be able to resume executions.

Under California's 1978 death penalty legislation, a governor does not have the power to abolish capital punishment permanently. A repeal would require a popular vote in favor of the change.

Assemblyman Marc Levine proposed a constitutional amendment that will essentially end capital punishment if approved by 2020. Gov. Newsom has pledged to back the amendment if legislature puts it to ballot.