Law Review: Proposition to speed up death penalty process likely dead
The Nov. 8, 2016 California ballot included two death penalty related Propositions: 62 and 66.
Prop. 62 would have outlawed the death penalty. I recommended a “yes” vote. It was defeated. Prop. 66 would have sped up the death penalty process. I recommended a “no” vote. It passed. Two-time loser.
The so-called “Death Penalty Reform and Savings” initiative with its self-serving title, also known as Prop. 66, was designed to speed up the death penalty process: Train more death penalty lawyers, change procedures regarding appeals and sentences, and the most important part, require all death penalty appeals to be heard by the courts within five years. For example: a five-year deadline for death penalty cases. Today, a California death penalty case takes on average 20 years.
Suit to Block Prop. 66
Several opponents of the death penalty filed suit to prevent implementation of Prop. 66. The California Supreme Court “stayed” the effect of Prop. 66, and the case wound through the legal system, finally oral arguments were heard before the California Supreme Court on June 9.
Opponents argued Prop. 66 would require the Supreme Court to spend about 90 percent of its time on death penalty cases to be able to make the five-year deadline.
The president of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers testified that Prop. 66 would require the California Supreme Court to decide “virtually nothing but death penalty appeals for at least the next five years — almost no civil cases at all and no criminal cases other than capital murder.” Ouch!
We’ll soon see how the Supreme Court rules, but my bet is it finds Prop. 66 unworkable and illegal.
I am opposed to the death penalty, not because I’m soft on crime; rather it’s a dysfunctional system that can’t be fixed with a mandatory five-year deadline. It should be easy but it isn’t. More than 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, 13 have been executed. More than 40 percent of California’s death row inmates have been waiting longer than 19 years. The death penalty is not a deterrent to crime.
If I am thinking about killing someone, knowing I may be executed in 20 years is not going to change my mind.
Death row inmates are guaranteed an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court. There’s a backlog of more than 300 death penalty appeals already before the Court. Seven hundred and fifty inmates are on death row in California.
The backlog of death row inmates — taking them through their appeals to execution — reportedly will cost $9 billion to maintain by 2030. It takes 20 years to process a death row inmate to execution — if there were an execution.
$250 Million a Prisoner
The New York Times conducted a study documenting that California’s death row prisoners cost $184 million more per year than those sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The state spends on average, according to the Times’ study, $250 million on each death row inmate — only to not execute.
California voters have narrowly supported the death penalty over the years on propositions. If Prop. 66 is found unconstitutional, we’ll probably see another “Abolish the Death Penalty” movement. If Prop. 66 passes legal muster, I guess we’ll find out if it works. I have my doubts.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. His practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.