California Proposition 7, the Death Penalty Act (1978)

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California Proposition 7, or the Death Penalty Act, was on the November 7, 1978 statewide ballot in California as an initiated state statute, where it was approved.

Proposition 7:

  • increased the penalties for first and second degree murder.
  • expanded the list of special circumstances requiring a sentence of either death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • revised existing law relating to mitigating or aggravating circumstances.

Election results

Proposition 7
Approveda Yes 4,480,275 71.1%

Text of measure


The ballot title was:

Murder. Penalty. Initiative Statute.


The summary of the ballot measure prepared by the California Attorney General read:

"Changes and expands categories of first degree murder for which penalties of death or confinement without possibility of parole may be imposed. Changes minimum sentence for first degree murder from life to 25 years to life. Increases penalty for second degree murder. Prohibits parole of convicted murderers before service of 25 or 15 year terms, subject to good-time credit. During punishment stage of cases in which death penalty is authorized: permits consideration of all felony convictions of defendant; requires court to impanel new jury if first jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict on punishment. Financial impact: Indeterminable future increase in state costs."

Fiscal impact

See also: Fiscal impact statement

The California Legislative Analyst's Office provided an estimate of net state and local government fiscal impact for Proposition 40. That estimate was:

"We estimate that, over time, this measure would increase the number of persons in California prisons, and thereby increase the cost to the state of operating the prison system.
The increase in the prison population would result from:
  • the longer prison sentences required for first degree murder (a minimum period of imprisonment equal to 16 years, eight months, rather than seven years);
  • the longer prison sentences required for second degree murder (a minimum of ten years, rather than four years); and
  • an increase in the number of persons sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
There could also be an increase in the number of executions as a result of this proposition, offsetting part of the increase in the prison population. However, the number of persons executed as a result of this measure would be significantly less than the number required to serve longer terms.
The Department of Corrections states that a small number of inmates can be added to the prison system at a cost of $2,575 per inmate per year. The additional costs resulting from this measure would not begin until 1983. This is because the longer terms would only apply to crimes committed after the proposition became effective, and it would be four years before any person served the minimum period of imprisonment required of second degree murderers under existing law."

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