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Majority of Californians still back death penalty, but support slips after court ruling

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SACRAMENTO, California — Support for California's death penalty has fallen to its lowest level in more than 50 years after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, according to a Field Poll released Friday.

The poll found 56 percent of registered voters support keeping the death penalty, a decline of 12 percentage points in just the last three years, when Field found 68 percent support for the death penalty. The new survey found 34 percent of respondents support abolishing it and 10 percent have no opinion.

It is the lowest level of support since 1971, when 58 percent of Californians supported the death penalty and 34 percent opposed it.

U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney in Los Angeles ruled in July that California's death penalty is unconstitutional because it takes too long to carry out, and that unpredictable delays are arbitrary and unfair. The judge noted that since the current death penalty system was adopted more than 35 years ago, more than 900 people have been sentenced to death but only 13 have been executed.

State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, is appealing the ruling, arguing that the lengthy waits ensure those who are condemned receive due process.

Friday's Field Poll also asked registered voters what the state should do in response to the ruling. Fifty-two percent support speeding up the execution process, while 40 percent favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

California voters rejected Proposition 34 in 2012, which would have repealed the death penalty in California, with 48 percent in favor and 52 percent opposed.

Executions are on hold in California regardless. The state has not executed any inmates since 2006 after another federal judge ordered an overhaul of the state's lethal injection procedures.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is drafting new lethal injection regulations after Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said the state would switch from a mixture of three drugs to a single-drug lethal injection. No executions can occur until the new rules are adopted.

The Field Poll surveyed 1,280 registered voters from Aug. 14-28. The poll has a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

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