The Death Penalty in California is...Dead

In a bold stroke meant to keep California at the cutting edge of criminal justice, Governor Gavin Newsom will sign an executive order Wednesday, placing a moratorium on the death penalty in the Golden State.

The death penalty has been on the decline in America for the last two decades. But it has become a defining issue for the Governor, widening the dividing line between California and the policies of President Trump.

The President has spoken out in favor of the death penalty, even for drug dealers. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump tweeted in response: "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!"

In an executive order Mr. Newsom plans to sign on Wednesday, he will do three things: (1) grant reprieves to the inmates currently on death row — they will still be under a death sentence, but not at risk of execution; (2) close the execution chamber at the San Quentin prison; and (3) withdraw the state’s lethal injection protocol, the formally approved procedure for carrying out executions.

California is home to 737 Californians awaiting executions – a quarter of the country’s death row inmates. Newsom says the death penalty system has discriminated against mentally ill defendants and people of color. It has not made the state safer and has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars, according to prepared remarks Newsom plans to deliver when he signs the order.

With Newsom's move, California joins Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Oregon as the fourth state to place a moratorium on the death penalty, though the length and reasoning for the moratoriums vary from state to state.

The Governor says he understands that the issue "raises deeply felt passions on all sides," but he believes that Americans ultimately will look back on the death penalty "as an archaic mistake."