California governor suspends death penalty

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

The policy will serve as an instant reprieve for the 737 people on death row in California, which has the largest death row population in the nation.

In the USA, the death penalty is inevitably plagued with arbitrariness, racial disparities, and error; 164 people, including four from California, have been released from death row since 1973 after being later found innocent.

Newsom's executive order, in addition to the moratorium, would "withdraw the state's lethal injection protocol, and shut down the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison", according to Buzzfeed.

"Here is the bottom line: Our death penalty system has been - by any measure - a failure", Newsom said in a statement, according to Politico. "The intentional killing of another person is wrong".

California voters have, more than once, affirmed their desire for a death penalty. After Newsom's term is up, the future governor could choose to resume overseeing executions or continue the ban.

However, in 2012 and again in 2016, Californian voters rejected ballot measures aimed at abolishing the death penalty. Just last month, two California prisoners who each had spent over 30 years on death row were freed after appellate courts found significant errors in their trials.

There are now 737 people on death row in California, making it the state with the largest death row population in the USA -one in four people sentenced to the death penalty in the country are sentenced in California. California voters even voted to fast-track death sentence appeals. Republican Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first to do so in 2000, though Illinois has since abolished the death penalty.

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President Donald Trump said Newsom was "defying voters" in halting the death penalty for "stone cold killers".

This could create a challenge for Newsom, since his executive order would be denying the will of the California people.

Newsom may feel strongly on this issue, but his decision certainly will appear to as a slap in the face to the victims and their families.

California is one of 31 states with capital punishment. At least 18 of the 25 people who were executed past year had significant evidence of mental illness, intellectually damaging brain injuries or chronic childhood trauma or abuse, according to a Death Penalty Information Center report released in December.

At that time, Newsom said he understood that the issue "raises deeply felt passions on all sides" but he believed that Americans ultimately would look back on the death penalty "as an archaic mistake".

"The disparities are very real and raw to me now especially as I spend every week working on the issues of paroles and commutations", he said.

Most industrialized nations have abolished the death penalty, yet the USA executes more people than any other democracy on the planet.

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