Today, Governor Gavin Newsom took the historic step of declaring a moratorium on executions in California. Four other states have a moratorium in place — Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington. The 737 California death row inmates represent over one-quarter of all those on death row in the United States. Just over four years ago, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on executions until any deficiencies identified by the recently-released state governmental study on capital punishment were resolved to his satisfaction. Governors Newsom and Wolf both pointed to concerns about racial bias, unfairness, inadequate defense counsel, and the risk of executing an innocent person. Five people have been released from California’s death row due to innocence. In Pennsylvania, that number is six.
Nationally, two of the five largest death penalty states – California and Pennsylvania – have not executed anyone in more than a decade. Overall, more than one-third of those now on death rows across the United States (34.1%) are incarcerated in states with gubernatorial moratoria — California, Colorado, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
This latest moratorium illustrates the decaying state of capital punishment. The death penalty has been disappearing, both in law and in practice, from the United States. Ohio Governor Tom DeWine put executions on hold this month to prevent the state from participating in torture. Last year, Washington State’s Supreme Court declared that the application of capital punishment in that state was unconstitutional.