California Governor Announces Reprieve for the State’s 737 Death Row Inmates

Gavin Newsom will put a hold on what he calls “the premeditated and discriminatory execution” of Californians.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom will announce a moratorium Wednesday on the state’s death penalty, giving 737 death row inmates a reprieve from execution.

The death sentences are still in place, but no inmates will be executed as long as the moratorium is in place. “I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom will say, according to a prepared statement. “It has discriminated against defendants who are mentally ill, black and brown, or can’t afford expensive legal representation.” Studies have shown that the death penalty is arbitrarily applied and disproportionately affects poor and black defendants.

The moratorium will close California’s only execution chamber, at the San Quentin State Prison near San Francisco. It comes as capital punishment is quickly losing support across the country and several other states are considering abolishing the death penalty completely. Since 2011, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington have announced moratoriums on executions. 

Of the 737 inmates on California’s death row, 24 have exhausted their appeals and would have been eligible for execution before the moratorium. The state hasn’t executed anyone since Clarence Ray Allen was put to death in 2006 for ordering the murders of three people while serving a life sentence for murder. Since then, the state’s lethal injection protocol has faced a series of legal challenges as drug manufacturers have banned their products from being used in executions, leading to a de facto moratorium. 

Newsom’s announcement comes less than three years after Californians rejected a ballot measure that would have abolished the death penalty and approved one that would speed up the appeals process by limiting it to five years. On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump, who strongly supports the death penalty, tweeted that Newsom’s moratorium was “defying voters.”

The announcement drew similar condemnation from some prosecutors. “The voters of the State of California support the death penalty,” said Michelle Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, in a statement. “Governor Newsom…is usurping the express will of California voters and substituting his personal preferences via this hasty and ill-considered moratorium on the death penalty.”

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.