Proposition 7

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Fighting to Repeal Death Penalty Law He Wrote

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

For one of the items on this year’s ballot, you need to go back to 1978. In that year, California voters approved Proposition 7, which expanded the death penalty in California. This November Californians will vote on Proposition 34, which would end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sacramento attorney Don Heller wrote Prop. 7 at the request of then-State Senator John Briggs.

“I wrote it with the intent of writing a perfect legal document. Which I did! It was well crafted. It met all the constitutional standards, and it’s never been overturned in any aspects by the U.S. Supreme Court.” Heller says.

“But I don’t believe capital punishment works. And if it doesn’t work, change it.”

Jerry Brown was governor at the time, and heinous crime sprees like the Manson killings and two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford were still fresh in voters’ minds. Heller remembers California as a western state with a taste for frontier justice. Proposition 7 got more than 71 percent of the vote.

“It was a culture of ‘hanging ‘em high from the big oak tree,’” Heller recalls. “It was a western mentality of free thinkers and speedy punishment for criminal behavior.” Continue reading