|California's death chamber|
Voters in California elected to keep the state’s death penalty, meaning the nation’s largest death row is here to stay. More than that, though, the state voted to speed up its death penalty.
There were two death penalty propositions on the ballot in the state. One would have repealed the death penalty and replaced it with life without the possibility of parole. That proposal lost by nearly eight points.
This wasn’t California’s first attempt at abolishing the death penalty. Just four years ago, voters rejected a repeal by a very narrow margin. This year, the repeal effort lost by a much larger margin.
The United States had roughly 2,900 inmates on death row, and a quarter of them are in California. Although California prosecutors send inmates to death row at a high pace, the state hasn’t carried out any executions in a decade.
The state has executed only 13 people since it brought back the death penalty in the ’70s.
But California will now attempt to speed that process up. The proposal that passed will reduce the appeals available to death row inmates and will remove some oversight from the process of selecting execution procedures.
The effort to speed up the process ended up winning by less than two percentage points.
“Human rights, by their definition, are inalienable and cannot be voted away,” Sister Helen Prejean, an advocate against the death penalty, said in a statement. “They cannot and should not be subject to the whim of the majority. And so it is perhaps fitting and inevitable that we turn to the courts, in particular the United States Supreme Court, to do the right thing.”
Just this past week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation published a new lethal injection protocol allowing for one of four drugs to be used. Two of the drugs have never before been used in an execution, and one drug has no legal source in the United States. The fourth is increasingly hard for death penalty states to obtain.
Source: Buzzfeed, Chris McDaniel, November 9, 2016. Chris McDaniel is a death penalty reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Challenge already filed to measure that would speed executions
Although California voters soundly rejected abolishing the death penalty and appear to have approved a measure to speed up executions, don’t expect anything to change soon — if at all.
Proposition 66, which was ahead Wednesday by a razor-thin margin with dozens of counties still counting ballots, would face major hurdles before it could deliver on its promise of expediting a death penalty appeals process that often drags on for decades. About 750 people are on death row in California, and no one has been executed since 2006.
Among the obstacles: Proponents of Proposition 62, which would have abolished capital punishment in California but was defeated more soundly than a similar measure in 2012, said they plan to file suit over the measure to speed appeals. Even with more votes left to be counted, they conceded at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday that they had lost their effort to defeat Proposition 66. And Orrick, a leading California-based law firm, filed a legal challenge late Wednesday seeking an immediate stay from the California Supreme Court.
“Proposition 66 will absolutely end up in protracted and costly litigation,’’ said Ana Zamora, manager of the No on 66 campaign. “It’s just more empty promises to California voters and victims’ families.’’
But Yes on 66 supporters vowed to carry out the measure’s highly technical provisions, such as putting trial courts in charge of initial petitions challenging death penalty convictions, establishing a time frame for death penalty reviews, and requiring appointed attorneys to accept death penalty appeals.
“If it is obstructed, we’re going to do everything we can to get it implemented,’’ said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, co-chair of the Yes on 66 campaign.
The measure does not include any funding for the extra attorneys and trial judges that would be required to speed up appeals. Lawmakers would have to allocate more money to already underfunded trial courts.
The state Legislature is dominated by the Democratic Party, which opposed Proposition 66.
“The Legislature and the governor should respect the will of the voters,’’ said Schubert, when asked about the funding.
California voters approached the two dueling death penalty initiatives in a different spirit than the other criminal justice measure on the ballot, Proposition 57.
Aimed at reducing prison overcrowding, that measure passed with overwhelming support. Backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it will expand parole opportunities for certain inmates and require that judges decide whether juveniles should be tried in adult court and sent to prison.
Proposition 57 is the third criminal justice reform approved by Californians since 2012. The other two are Proposition 36, which eased the state’s tough three-strikes law for repeat offenders, and Proposition 47, which reduced some crimes to misdemeanors, shortening sentences and sending offenders to jail rather than prison.
“We’re seeing a real split,’’ said Garrick Percival, an associate professor of political science at San Jose State. “Californians are saying our prison system is broken and costs too much, but for the worst of the worst, they still advocate the ultimate punishment.’’
Proposition 66’s victory surprised some opponents, partly because polls had shown both death penalty measures trailing.
However, the ACLU, NAACP and other groups have said they are prepared to duke it out in court. Experts said they may be able to challenge the measure on the grounds that conscripting lawyers in death penalty cases and threatening to take their livelihood away (by not appointing them in other matters) if they refuse would be illegal.
Another line of attack could be on the grounds that requiring defendants and their lawyers to challenge their convictions in trial court would require an amendment of the state constitution. To put such an amendment on the ballot, supporters would have had to collect more signatures than they did for Proposition 66.
Source: The Mercury News, Tracey Kaplan, November 9, 2016
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