By Charles David Henry
California is “home to the largest Death Row population in the Western Hemisphere,” according to a recent PolitiFact press release.
According to public data, California’s Death Row has nearly 750 individuals condemned to die. That’s nearly twice as many as the next closest state, Florida at 388. UC Berkeley law professor Frank Zimring says it ranks behind only a handful of countries, including China and Iran.
Many experts claim the state’s condemned population is primarily the product of a court system that fails to provide prisoners with enough legal help. Accordingly, death penalty appeals are backlogging the courts; the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) declares that executions have been on hold in California since 2006 following a legal challenge to the state’s three-chemical lethal injection method.
Come this November, Californians will decide either to abolish or possibly speed up the death penalty. Proposition 62 would eliminate capital punishment, replacing it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as the state’s maximum punishment for those found guilty of murder. Proposition 66 would keep the death penalty but proposes a faster appeals process.
“Most of the Western Hemisphere has abolished the death penalty. Apart from the United States, the retentionist countries are Cuba, Guatemala and Guyana and a couple of countries in the Caribbean. None of them have Death Rows that are remotely the size of California’s or even Florida’s,” said Robert Dunham, director of the DPIC.
California has executed only 13 people since it reinstated the death penalty in 1978. The last execution was in 2006. Coincidently, it’s the third leading reason of death on the row behind natural causes and suicide.