PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty Declines in California

Californians' support for the death penalty is declining according to results of a new survey conducted in February 2006 by the Field Poll. The statewide poll revealed that only 63% of respondents favor keeping the death penalty for serious crimes, a figure that is lower than the 72% support for the death penalty measured in 2002 and significantly less than the 83% who voiced support for capital punishment in both 1985 and 1986. The survey also found a growing segment of the population questioning the fairness of the death penalty. The poll asked Californians if they believed the death penalty has been "generally fair and free from error." Among respondents, 48% said yes, 39% said no, and 13% had no opinion. When the same question was posed during a poll two years ago, 58% said the system was fair, and 31% disagreed. "The sophistication of Californians on this issue is growing. We're getting close to that point when the death penalty can no longer drive political decisions as it has in the past," noted Lance Lindsey, Executive Director of Death Penalty Focus.

In the three months leading up to the Field Poll, California carried out two executions, including the highly publicized execution of Stanley Williams and the execution of Clarence Ray Allen, who at 76 years old was blind and so feeble that he had to be wheeled to the death chamber. On February 21, a federal judge blocked the execution of Michael Morales due to concerns about the constitutionality of the lethal injection process. A hearing in May is scheduled to determine whether California's procedures for lethal injection pose a significant risk of leaving the prisoner conscious and in pain during executions.

(San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 2006).  See Public Opinion.