After beating back a well-funded effort to abolish capital punishment in California, death penalty supporters said Wednesday that their efforts to have executions resume may include going to the voters in 2014.
"We may have to go to the ballot ourselves," said Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, one of the groups that helped defeat Proposition 34 Tuesday.
The measure, which was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union and would have replaced death sentences with life without possibility of parole, lost 53 percent to 47 percent.
The defeat has no immediate impact on the administration of the death penalty, although both sides argued Wednesday that the campaign has focused new attention on the issue.
"There is no legal effect from defeating a proposition," Scheidegger said, "but there is a political effect and a psychological effect."
Natasha Minsker, the campaign manager for the effort to abolish the death penalty, argued that the results show nearly half of California voters are ready to scrap capital punishment and that such efforts will continue.
"We're really focused on having a conversation with the voters," she said. "What form that takes I don't know, but we need to continue the work and this is a step in the process."
The ACLU has pushed the measure as one that would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars, but law enforcement groups countered that the savings were a mirage and that enforcing death sentences would cut out costly delays.
Death penalty advocates have argued for years that legislators and state officials could easily speed up executions but have failed to do so.
Currently, there are 14 death row inmates whose appeals have been exhausted and could be executed if existing legal roadblocks were removed, they say.
They identified three areas of concern they will ask the state to address. If that fails, they say, they will ask voters to intervene and approve a resumption of executions for the first time since 2006.
A key issue is the legal fight over California's three-drug procedure for lethal injection, one that has been tied up by court challenges and a shortage of one of the drugs.
Death penalty advocates argue that the state could order the use of a one-drug method without using the normal lengthy bureaucratic processes, a move that six other states already have implemented.
They also want to limit the number of appeals available to condemned inmates unless there is demonstrable evidence supporting new appeals, something they say would cut out numerous appeals and case reviews that delay executions.
"The Legislature should limit capital appeals to one full review in all cases where there is no doubt of the identity of the perpetrator, which includes most capital cases," Scheidegger's group said in a statement Wednesday.
Death penalty advocates also say they want restrictions loosened on which attorneys are considered qualified to handle capital case appeals, addressing a longstanding complaint that too few lawyers are available to handle cases for the state's 726 death row inmates.
The death penalty initiative was one of two on Tuesday's ballot aimed at changing California's criminal justice methods. The other, Proposition 36, requires a reform of the state's "three-strikes" law and passed easily, with 69 percent in favor.
That measure eliminates 25-years-to-life sentences for inmates whose third qualifying felony is not serious or violent.
Its passage means inmates sentenced under the old law for a nonviolent or nonserious third strike can seek a resentencing hearing.
Sacramento County's assistant chief deputy district attorney, Steve Grippi, said he does not expect the passage of Proposition 36 to have much impact on his office.
"That's because we've already established a procedure where we evaluate and review every eligible three-strikes case and determine whether individuals or charged defendants fall within the spirit of the three-strikes law," Grippi said. "We already have a process in place that, in our view, is designed to ensure a fair and even-handed use of our discretion."
As for inmates already serving 25-to-life terms who apply for resentencings under Proposition 36, Grippi said his office will review each application as it comes in through the courts.
He said the DA's office has kept records on all three-strikes defendants it prosecuted on 25-to-life terms, and that attorneys will go through the files to determine if they think the inmate who wants his sentence reviewed still poses a danger to public safety.
"Sometimes we'll oppose, sometimes we'll submit, and I'm sure there might be some where there is nothing to object to," Grippi said.
"Our only issue will be if they are a danger to the public. We'll do our job to make sure public safety is considered."