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Prop. 34: Battle Over Death Penalty Ban Heats Up (VIDEO)

While latest ad from 34's backers focuses on wrongful convictions, opponents spotlight former 49ers cornerback Kermit Alexander, whose family was gunned down in 1984 by a man who remains on Death Row.

With less than two weeks to go before the Nov. 6 election, the battle over Proposition 34, the proposed ban of the death penalty in California, appears to be tightening, and its proponents are raising the stakes.

Yes on Prop. 34, the campaign to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole, create a $100 million fund to investigate rape and murder cases and require inmates to work and pay restitution to victims or their families, launched a $2 million radio and TV ad campaign this week.

In doing so, Prop. 34 backers hope to make the case that capital punishment in California is a waste of taxpayer money, citing the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimate that the state could save as much as $130 million a year if the death penalty is abolished. No inmate has been executed since early 2006, when a federal judge ordered a moratorium because of questions about lethal injection protocol. That moratorium remains in place, and Prop. 34 proponents also cite a former appeals court judge's 2011 study that found that since 1978 capital punishment has cost California about $4 billion.

All male Death Row inmates in California are housed at Marin's San Quentin State Prison, where executions were carried out until the moratorium.

A new prop-34 TV ad in major California media markets also argues that the death penalty often prevents the wrongfully convicted from seeking justice.

"We know it is a close race," said Erin Mellon, spokesperson for the Yes on 34 campaign. "On this issue, people are split pretty much down the middle with a very small number of undecided voters that both sides are obviously trying to cater to."

As both sides reach out to those undeciced voters, Prop. 34's proponents have considerably more resources to wield. The campaign has raised nearly $7 million as of Oct. 16, much of which has come from Hyatt Development Corp. billionaire Nicholas Pritzker, the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, according to MapLight's VotersEdge campaign finance tool.

Prop. 34 opponents, meanwhile, have raised just $342,000 to date, nearly all of which has come from the Peace Officers Research Association of California.

Despite its vast fundraising lead, the Yes on Prop. 34 campaign has faced an uphill battle in swaying public opinion about the death penalty, but recent polls have indicated the race is tightening.

While a Sept. 30 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found voters against Prop. 34 51 percent to 38 percent, an Oct. 11 poll conducted by the California Business Roundtable/Pepperdine University showed that margin narrowing to 48 percent to 43 percent.

Where do you stand on Prop. 34? Tell us in the Comments.

Chris Bernstien October 31, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Michael Genest, former State Of California Finance Director, reported: While I credit the LAO for a fair and impartial attempt to quantify the costs and savings that may result from the enactment of Proposition 34, the savings claims of the proponents of the measure are grossly exaggerated. The LAO’s official ballot pamphlet analysis pegs the net savings to state and local governments combined at $100 million annually, growing eventually to $130 million. While I think that the LAO made a good faith effort to guess at what the fiscal effects would be, their estimate is based on a few key assumptions about which they acknowledge there is substantial uncertainty and which may well be wrong. Moreover, the absence of the threat of a death penalty could substantially increase the total number of murder trials by taking away a major incentive for murderers to plead guilty. based on a study by a California organization, the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, is that elimination of the death penalty would reduce plea bargains and increase trials in murder cases by 11%. That would mean trials and appeals in over 140 additional murder cases a year, an added expense that could completely eliminate the savings from trying a much smaller number of cases as life-imprisonment rather than capital cases.
Chris Bernstien October 31, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Those on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, including 230 children & 43 police officers. 211 were raped, 319 robbed, 66 killed by execution, & 47 tortured. 11 murdered other inmates. A jury of 12 people & a judge confirmed for each inmate that their crimes were so atrocious and they were so dangerous that they not only did not deserve to live, but they were so dangerous that the only safe recourse was the death penalty. Recognizing how dangerous these killers are, the prison houses them 1 person to a cell and does not provide them with work, leaving them locked in their cells most of the day. Prop. 34 wants to ignore all of this and save $ by placing these killers in less-restrictive prisons where they share cells. They also want to provide them opportunities for work, where they have more freedom, access to other inmates and guards, & more chances to make weapons. Prop. 34 also destroys any incentive for the 34,000 inmates already serving life without parole to kill again. There would be no death penalty. They are already serving a life sentence, so why not get a name by killing another inmate or a guard? Prop. 34 also takes away the money for inmates to challenge their convictions. If innocent, they will spend the rest of their life in jail, celled with vicious killers. Prop. 34 will cause more deaths of innocent people– guards and people wrongfully convicted but no longer able to fight it in court. And they refer to Prop. 34 as the SAFE Act!

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