Capitol Alert

California Supreme Court blocks new law to speed up death penalty

Voters 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.
Voters 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. Sacramento Bee file

A new voter-approved law intended to speed up California’s fractured death penalty system will not take effect while a court considers a lawsuit from its opponents.

The California Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed implementation of Proposition 66 pending the outcome of the case. The measure, which also aims to resume executions in a state where none has taken place in more than a decade, won 51 percent of the vote and was certified on Friday.

In a one-page filing, the court said it was providing “time for further consideration” of the legal challenge and “to permit the filing and consideration of papers in opposition to the petition.” Supporters of Proposition 66 must file their response to the lawsuit by Jan. 9, with the reply from the petitioners due two weeks later.

Aiming to expedite a process that can take more than two decades, Proposition 66 expands the pool of lawyers eligible to take death penalty cases in order to get condemned inmates legal representation sooner. It also sets strict timelines for inmates to appeal their sentences.

Ron Briggs, who helped write a 1978 initiative that expanded the use of California’s newly reinstated death penalty and later became a vocal opponent, and former California Attorney General John Van De Kamp, filed the lawsuit the day after the election. A rival ballot measure to abolish capital punishment failed.

Proposition 66 “will result in immediate increased expenditures of public funds, a suppression of legitimate challenges, and a decrease in counsels’ ability to represent their clients,” they wrote in their petition for relief.

Proponents of the measure have criticized their complaints as a “frivolous lawsuit to impede progress once again.”

California has the largest death row in the country, with nearly 750 inmates awaiting execution. The state’s lethal injection protocol was halted by a federal judge in 2006 as a potential violation of the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment, and a replacement is in the process of being approved.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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