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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

California Voters to Choose Between Abolishing the Death Penalty or Speeding Up Executions

San Quentin's brand new death chamber
San Quentin's brand new death chamber
A measure to abolish the death penalty has made it to the November ballot to compete with a measure aiming to increase execution rates.

An initiative that would repeal the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole has qualified for the November ballot, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced today.

The initiative would apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. It would also require prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for murder to work while in prison.

What backers dubbed as the "Justice That Works Act" required valid signatures from 365,880 registered voters -- 5 % of the total votes cast for governor in the 2014 general election -- to qualify for the ballot, according to Padilla.

Passage of the initiative would result in a net reduction in state and local government costs of potentially around $150 million annually within a few years, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

"Because of all the problems with the death penalty, not a single person has been executed here in the last 10 years. Nonetheless, Californians continue to pay for it in many ways," said initiative proponent Mike Farrell, a longtime death penalty opponent best known for his portrayal of Army Capt. B. J. Hunnicutt on the classic 1972-83 CBS comedy "M.A.S.H."

"Whether you look at the death penalty from a taxpayer, a criminal justice or a civil rights perspective, what is clear is that it fails in every respect. We have to do better in California."

An initiative aimed at expediting executions is also expected to appear on the November ballot.

"Justice is not easy, and it is certainly not gentle. But justice denied is not justice," said Kermit Alexander, the former NFL player who is the proponent of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act. Alexander's mother, sister and two nephews were murdered in 1984.

"We the people of California have consecutively and systematically voted to reinstate and preserve the use of capital punishment despite the efforts of those who refuse to carry out an execution."

Passage of the Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act would result in increased state costs that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually for several years related to direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings, with the fiscal impact on such costs being unknown in the longer run.

There could also be potential state correctional savings in the tens of millions of dollars annually, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Department of Finance.

In the unlikely event both measures were approved by voters, the measure with more yes votes would go into effect.

A measure to repeal the death penalty on the November 2012 ballot was rejected by a 52 % - 48 % margin.

Source: patch.com, June 18, 2016

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