Prop. 66 Looks to Speed Up Executions on Death Row

Death PenaltyTomorrow, voters will consider not one but two measures involving the death penalty — one speeds up the process while the other would stop it entirely.

If approved, Prop. 62 would repeal the death penalty and commute the condemned sentences to life without parole. On the other hand, Prop. 66 would speed up the process by expanding the number of courts and attorneys able to hear and try death penalty appeals to meet a five-year cap on the appeals process that currently takes decades. (If both measures pass, the highest vote-getter would become law.)

But failure to meet the five-year time frame would not commute the sentence or throw out the appeal, according to the proposed language. So what happens at the five-year mark?

“If the process takes more than five years, victims or their attorneys could request a court order to address the delay,” said Drew Soderborg, managing principal analyst with the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. “Because it is unknown how often this would happen or how courts would rule on such a requests, it is difficult to know what the effect would be.”

A court order could pump a sense of urgency into whichever party or court is holding up the process — the violation of which could be punishable in some instances.

Is the system broken?

Proponents of both measures agree that the current system is broken. The appeals process takes decades at a tremendous cost to the state ($55 million annually), which has to prosecute as well as defend in many instances.

Because of legal complications with the lethal injection process, the state hasn’t executed anyone since 2006. In fact, only 15 inmates have been executed since 1978, while 100 have died while waiting, according to an LAO analysis of the measure.

Currently, there are around 750 inmates on Death Row. Some supporters of a total repeal of the death penalty argue it’s a cruel and unusual punishment, while others point to exonerations, which, while not entirely common, happen frequently enough to worry critics about executing innocent people. Since 1973, 156 people have been exonerated nationwide, including three in California, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Prop. 66 would reform the system in an entirely different way — by speeding it up. The measure would increase the pool of eligible attorneys qualified to represent condemned inmates by forcing them to do it. Many who are qualified don’t like to represent death penalty appeals because of inadequate state funding and the major time commitment.

The number of courts in which cases could be heard would be increased under Prop. 66 by sending one type of appeal (habeas corpus petitions) back to the initial court to see if any error had been made. As of April, there were 360 Death Row inmates waiting for habeas corpus petitions.

Critics say Prop. 66’s five-year cap is arbitrary. But proponents say it’s enough time in most instances.

“Prop. 66 limits state appeals to 5 years instead of allowing  convicted criminals to file appeal after appeal after appeal,” said Bill Bradley, a spokesman for Prop. 66. “However, the initiative does not impose a rigid deadline that must be met in every case as extraordinary cases may take longer. With that said, five years is generally sufficient to get through state appeals, even in the most complex cases.”

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

There will be a minimum of seventeen measures on the Statewide ballot in November.  San Fran is adding another 39 for their voters—and your city and county may have some as well.  You will be asked to legalize marijuana, repeal the plastic bag ban, vote to take away guns and extend a tax for twelve years, at a cost of $144 billion—transferred from your business and family to the government.

Also, on the ballot are two measures dealing with the death penalty.  One would outlaw the death penalty.  The other making it faster and less complex to complete the death sentence.  There are over 700 people on California’s death row.  Last week a prisoner filed to be let at of prison, because of the cruel and unusual punishment—he had been on death row for more than 30 years (he forgot to mention that is because of all the appeals he filed).  It is time to make a decision—do we support the criminals or the victims?

“One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.”

Death Penalty

Competing death penalty initiatives could spur confusion

Prop. 66 will preserve and reform the death penalty system 

 

By Michele Hanisee, Association of Deputy District Attorneys,  7/19/16

 

This November, California voters will be presented with two of the most important ballot initiatives in state history.

One – Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

The other – Proposition 62 – would scrap the death penalty, allowing criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in the relative comfort of prison.

I cannot overstate the importance of supporting Prop. 66, and doing everything we can – no matter how small – to educate others about it. If Prop. 66 fails, and California scraps the death penalty, the kind of brutal criminals who ambushed and slaughtered five police officers in Dallas Thursday night would only face life in prison if they committed those crimes here.

To be sure, the problems with California’s current death penalty system are by no means new, and they have literally transformed a death sentence into life without parole. Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed only 13 inmates. A quarter of the 700-plus inmates on California’s death row have been there for more than 25 years. The average death-row inmate has spent 16 years with a death sentence.

One of the primary problems is the endless inmate appeal process of their death sentences. Prop. 66 would fix this problem, and many more.

Among other things, it would require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s appeal will be heard sooner. It would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates, and make it easier for the department to enact an execution protocol.

As we said in earlier posts, failure to pass this initiative is not an option; not only would Prop. 62 eliminate the death penalty going forward, but it would apply retroactively to people already sentenced to death.

You can sign up for campaign email updates, and volunteer for and donate to the campaign, by visiting the Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings website and clicking on the links on the right side of the home page.

 

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys. The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board Member, click here.

Debate Rages Over CA Death Penalty

Death PenaltyObliged by a court settlement to figure out a new method of capital punishment, California officials have exacerbated the state’s protracted debate over executions by settling on a different kind of lethal injection.

With a widespread shortage of execution drugs used in the now-familiar “cocktails,” officials have now aimed to “let corrections officials choose from four types of powerful barbiturates to execute prisoners,” according to KCRA Sacramento. “A choice would be made for each execution, depending on which drug is available. The single drug would replace the series of three drugs that were last used in 2006, when 76-year-old Clarence Ray Allen was executed for ordering a triple murder.”

“The plan to use barbiturates to execute inmates sentenced to die in the most populous U.S. state drew fire from religious activists, who called capital punishment grisly and anti-democratic at a hearing in Sacramento,” Reuters reported. “Law-and-order advocates urged its adoption.”

“If the new protocol is adopted by corrections officials and voters do not outlaw the death penalty next November, the state could theoretically begin executing 18 prisoners who have exhausted their appeals. Legal challenges to the lethal injection drug, however, could drag on for years.”

Opponents of the new plan insisted that it amounted to a trial-and-error approach. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is suing to obtain at least 79,000 corrections department documents related to lethal injections,” KCRA noted. “It says the regulations may lack enough safeguards to prevent the state from using backdoor ways to obtain execution drugs that manufacturers never intended for that purpose.” Past cocktails have been harshly criticized for sometimes failing to execute inmates as quickly and painlessly as lethal injection was intended to do.

Languishing inmates

Much of the frustration around the issue stems from the unique backlog that has built up on the state’s Death Row. “It’s been 10 years since California executed its last death row inmate. Since then, the death row population has grown to 745,” KQED noted. “Since 1978, 117 death row inmates have died, the vast majority from natural causes and suicide.”

Although California’s Death Row has ballooned to an extraordinary size over the years, other states have found themselves burdened by court requirements in similar ways. Florida, second to California in the size of its death row population, recently faced a Supreme Court ruling that has thrown the status of its condemned inmates into question. “Death penalty prosecutions are stalled, and state lawmakers are hustling to write and pass a new death penalty law before their session ends in six weeks,” the New York Times reported. “Also in question is whether the 390 inmates awaiting execution in Florida will remain on death row or be resentenced to life in prison.” The predicament, which has gained the attention of reformers and activists across  the political spectrum, has contributed to the rise of execution reform as a hot-button issue around the country.

Divided opinion

California’s own controversy has strengthened amid a sharp divide in statewide public opinion over capital punishment. Voters, a new poll found, have “now equally divided between scrapping the death penalty altogether and speeding up the path to executing inmates on the nation’s largest death row,” according to the San Jose Mercury News. “The poll found that 47 percent of voters favor replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole in California, up from 40 percent in 2014. But at the same time, the poll shows that 48 percent of registered voters would support proposals to accelerate the state’s notoriously slow system of resolving death penalty appeals to pick up the pace of executions.” Both those proposals were likely to wind up on this election year’s ballot in the form of initiatives.

Opinions have split even among Death Row inmates themselves. “Opinions vary, just like I’m sure they vary on the outside,” one inmate, Charles Crawford II, told KQED. “Some of us are against it, some of us not so much. Some of us, it’s like if they’re going to do it, do it and not have us sittin’ here for 20 or 30 years.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com