Last November, California narrowly voted in favor of reforming the state’s death penalty. California has been bogged down in legal battles over its death penalty protocols and has not executed an inmate in over a decade. There are nearly 750 inmates on death row in California, many of whom are in the middle of lengthy appeals. In some cases, it can take more than three decades to complete this appeals process. Proposition 66, which passed in November, aims to streamline the process of appealing death row convictions.
What Will Proposition 66 Do?
Proposition 66 was successful in California because is acknowledged that the death penalty system in the state was broken. Rather than abolishing the death penalty, however, the referendum suggests significant changes. The primary goal of the referendum is to reduce the amount of time the process of appealing death row convictions takes. It can currently take between 20 and 30 years to complete the automatic appeals process in the state of California. This does not even take into account the federal appeals that may be available.
Proposition 66 presents a blueprint, containing six primary changes, to fix the California death penalty process. These changes include:
- Limiting the state appeals process to a five-year time period.
- Assigning a special appeals attorney to convicted death row inmates immediately upon sentencing.
- Identifying and training a larger pool of special appeals attorneys.
- Utilize trial courts to handle initial appeals, since these courts are already familiar with these complex cases.
- Empower the California Supreme Court to oversee the appeals process and protect the rights of the accused.
- Reform death row housing and reduce the cost of detaining those sentenced to death.
These changes are all intended to streamline the process of implementing the death penalty, which will have two primary effects. First, it will provide relief to the families of the victims who are killed by these convicted death row inmates. Second, it will significantly reduce the cost of implementing the death penalty in California. Between the actual litigation and housing death row inmates, the appeals process currently costs the state a pretty penny.
Difficulties in Implementing Proposition 66
Voters in California liked Proposition 66 because it maintained the death penalty but paved a path toward streamlining the process. California has not executed a death row inmate in more than a decade. This is largely in part because of a series of legal challenges to the current lethal injection protocol used by the state. California was ordered to come up with a new lethal injection protocol that would not put death row inmates at risk of suffering cruel and unusual punishment. The latest attempts by the California government have been unsuccessful.
Even if the appeals process is streamlined under Proposition 66, California cannot legally execute an inmate until its protocol is fixed and approved. This means that the primary goals of Proposition 66 – getting justice for victims’ families and saving money – cannot be achieved right away. Families of victims will have to wait and California taxpayers will have to continue paying to house death row inmates.