Capitol Alert

California votes to speed up ‘broken’ death penalty system

California has passed Proposition 66, a ballot measure that aims to speed up the death penalty. No one has been executed in California since 2006 because of legal challenges to the lethal injection protocol.
California has passed Proposition 66, a ballot measure that aims to speed up the death penalty. No one has been executed in California since 2006 because of legal challenges to the lethal injection protocol. The Sacramento Bee file

A measure that aims to expedite long-delayed executions on California’s massive death row has passed.

The Associated Press on Tuesday night projected victory for Proposition 66, which implements strict timelines for inmate appeals to death sentences and removes an administrative barrier to resuming executions. The measure led by more than 250,000 votes, or 51 percent to 49 percent, after two weeks of counting millions of late-arriving mail and provisional ballots.

“Voters want to ensure that victims’ families receive the justice they want and deserve,” Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, a supporter of Proposition 66, said in a statement. “It’s time for our opponents and the Legislature to work with us to ensure the death penalty process works as intended.”

A rival initiative, Proposition 62, that sought to abolish the death penalty nearly four decades after it returned to California was soundly defeated on election night.

The fierce campaign over the dueling death penalty measures saw both sides denounce the current system as broken and wasteful, with hundreds of millions of dollars spent to house nearly 750 inmates currently on death row while only 13 have ever been executed. Law enforcement, including a late television campaign by the correctional officers union, urged voters to keep capital punishment for the worst of the worst murderers.

Proposition 66 will introduce changes that allow prison officials to move some condemned inmates out of their expensive, high-security death row cells and require the state to hire hundreds more lawyers to provide prompt representation for inmates whose appeals generally drag on for decades.

It also eliminates the need for administrative approval of a new lethal injection protocol that state officials developed last year. No one has been executed in California since 2006, following legal challenges to the drug cocktail.

But it could still be months or years more before the state resumes executing inmates, nearly 20 of whom have exhausted all appeals. Opponents, vowing to fight the “false promise” of Proposition 66, have already filed lawsuits against its proposed changes to the appeals process and the new lethal injection method.

“We would like nothing better than a criminal justice system that is responsive and fair. But California just made a mistake the size of Texas,” Ana Zamora, campaign manager for No on Prop. 66, said in a statement. The “initiative is so poorly written that it is legally and practically unworkable. California voters can now expect more litigation, more delays, and more costs to taxpayers.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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