California governor to place moratorium on death penalty

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

Enlarge Image California Gov. Gavin Newsom AP

"The death penalty is inconsistent with our bedrock values and strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a Californian".

The executive order grants a reprieve to 737 inmates on the country's largest death row and halts the use of the death penalty in the state, according to the governor's office.

"The intentional killing of another person is wrong", he said, "and as governor, I will not oversee the execution of any individual".

Newsom does not have the power to overturn California's death penalty law, Kreitzberg said, but he can refuse to sign any death warrants and can commute death sentences to life imprisonment. His administration argues that capital punishment has been a failure, pointing at pervasive inequality running through the United States criminal justice system, the significant number of innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted, and evidence that the costly system doesn't increase safety.

California hasn't executed anyone since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor.

No death row inmates will be released. And though voters in 2016 narrowly approved a ballot measure to speed up the punishment, no condemned inmate faced imminent execution. Twenty-five people on California's death row have exhausted all of their appeals.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys blasted Newsom for "usurping" the will of the voters and "substituting his personal preferences".

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Newsom is a Democrat who took office in January and is a long-standing opponent of the death penalty, which was last carried out in California in 2006.

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 executive order will also argue that capital punishment is inherently unfair - applied more often to people of color and those with mental disability, according to an administration source.

Studies over the past several decades have found persistent patterns of racial disparities in courts imposing the death penalty, with black people much more likely to receive such verdicts than white people, especially if the victim of their crime is white.

"I've never believed in the death penalty from a moral perspective", he said. A repeal would require a popular vote in favour of the change.

California is one of 31 states with capital punishment.

Newsom told reporters last month that the prospect of executions resuming has been weighing on him. The order will also immediate close San Quentin State Prison's execution chamber and put an end to the state's continued efforts to find a constitutional method for lethal injection, The Los Angeles Times reported. Another 26 committed suicide. "It is certain that as long as there is the death penalty there is the risk of executing innocent people".

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