California Governor Gavin Newsom Blocks Capital Punishment Throughout the State, Ending Death Penalty in a Single Order
In Florida, Texas, and most other states where prosecutors are given the option of seeking the death penalty (as are federal prosecutors under federal law), the focus is upon the individual case. Will the state ask for death? Will it file its Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty? If so, then the defense team responds. Both in the guilt phase and the sentencing trial, the capital defense lawyers fight to stop the death penalty from being imposed upon the defendant.
Note: for details on how the state can move back and forth on seeking the death penalty, read Terry Lenamon’s experiences as a defense lawyer in the Casey Anthony case in his memoir, Heinous, Atrocious and Cruel: Casebook of a Death Penalty Attorney.
This month, the State of California reminds us that the ability to stop the death penalty can and does lie with one person, whose executive decisions are powerful enough to block executions as well as prosecutorial requests for capital punishment. By one signature, the death penalty is off the table in pending cases (and future ones) and Death Row residents have hope restored.
Here is how that happens; see the Executive Order signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom on March 13, 2019 (full text below). The Newsom Order does three huge things, as it:
- declares a moratorium on executions of California’s 737 inmates on death row;
- orders a withdrawal of California’s lethal injection protocol; and
- calls for the immediate closure of the execution chamber at San Quentin State Prison.
The only thing we don’t see here is the Governor ordering a Death Row resident to be freed outright, or for the change of any existing Death Row sentence.
This is Not Permanent: The Order Will Expire
Many hail this as a tremendous victory for those who oppose the death penalty. And it is.
However, we all have to remember that this is not a permanent change. The Executive Order lives for the term of the current governor’s time in office. New election with a new person in that office? Things can change.
Full Text of Governor Newsom’s Order Ending California’s Death Penalty
Here is the full text of the Governor’s Order:
EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT STATE OF CALIFORNIA
Executive Order N-09-19
WHEREAS, California’s death penalty system is unfair, unjust, wasteful, protracted and does not make our state safer.
WHEREAS, the state’s bedrock responsibility to ensure equal justice under the law applies to all people no matter their race, mental ability, where they live, or how much money they have.
WHEREAS, death sentences are unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities. and people who cannot afford costly legal representation.
WHEREAS. innocent people have been sentenced to death in California. Moreover, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that as many as one in 25 people sentenced to death in the United States is likely innocent.
WHEREAS, since 1978, California has spent $5 billion on a death penalty system that has executed 13 people.
WHEREAS, no person has been executed since 2006 because California’s execution protocols have not been lawful. Yet today, 25 California death row inmates have exhausted all of their state and federal appeals and could be eligible for an execution date.
WHEREAS, I will not oversee execution of any person while Governor.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, GAVIN NEWSOM, Governor of the State of California, in accordance with the authority vested in me by the Constitution and statutes of the State of California, do hereby issue the following order to become effective immediately:
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1 . An executive moratorium on the death penalty shall be instituted in the form of a reprieve for all people sentenced to death in California. This moratorium does not provide for the release of any person from prison or otherwise alter any current conviction or sentence.
2. California’s lethal injection protocol shall be repealed.
3. The Death Chamber at San Quentin shall be immediately closed in light of the foregoing.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that as soon as hereafter possible, this Order shall be filed with the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice shall be given to this Order.
This Order is not intended to, and does not, create any rights or benefits, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity, against the State of California, its departments, agencies, or other entities, its officers or employees or any other person.
Governor of California
ALEX PADILLA Secretary of State