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Prop 66: Reform appeals of the death penalty

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Prop 66 has passed by a margin of 51.1% yes to 48.9%. It changes procedures for death penalty appeals to speed up the process.

Is there a problem right now with California’s death penalty?

Yes there is.

Whether they are for or against the death penalty, both sides agree the current system is broken.  Right now convicts as well as families of victims have long waits as the legal system grinds on.  A convict on average spends 18 years on death row before he is executed, and executions almost never happen. The last one was in 2006.  Inmates are more likely to die of natural causes or suicide than to be put to death. On top of that the protracted legal process is expensive. It costs taxpayers about $150 million a year in attorneys’ fees.

Each side takes different approaches to the problem. One wants to abolish the death penalty. They have proposed Prop 62. The other side wants to keep the death penalty but reform the system. They have proposed Prop 66.

What would Prop 66 do?

Prop 66 would speed up the legal process in several ways:

  • It would limit the number of petitions a convicted inmate could file.
  • It would increase the number of attorneys who handle death penalty cases by requiring attorneys who handle non-capital appeals to accept death penalty appeals.
  • Each murderer given the death penalty would be assigned an attorney right away, rather than waiting five or more years.
  • The trial courts who know death penalty law the best will deal with the first appeals.
  • The appeals would have to be reviewed faster and all reviews completed within five years.
  • It would require death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims.

Who’s for Prop 66 and what are their arguments?

Nearly 80 law enforcement groups are in favor of the proposition as well as some family members of murder victims.  They say:

  • We need to keep the death penalty so that the worst of the worst killers receive the strongest sentence.
  • Only defendants who are found guilty of first degree murder with special circumstances can get the death penalty.
  • Capital punishment protects society from being victimized by making sure brutal killers have no chance of being released.
  • It will bring swifter justice and closure to victims’ families.
  • It would save taxpayers as much as $30 million a year in the long run.

Who’s against Prop 66 and what are their arguments?

Long-time death penalty advocate and actor, Mike Ferrell, is leading the group against Prop 66. The groups also includes attorneys, religious leaders and families of murder victims.  

They say:

  • Capital punishment is immoral
  • It is not an effective deterrent to crime.
  • It costs taxpayers millions of dollars to process the cases.
  • The proposed changes will not reduce the backlog. There are 748 inmates currently on death row in California. It would take more than two years of daily executions to execute them all.
  • Forcing less experienced attorneys to accept death penalty cases is not the answer. One critic writes it “would open the floodgates ... to incompetent, unqualified lawyers taking death penalty cases.” (Stephen Cooper, former DC public defender writing for Jurist, July 4, 2016)
  • California has more cases of wrongfully convicted citizens than any other state. We can’t risk that someone innocent might be executed.
  • The methods of execution are flawed and under scrutiny.
  • Our judges are overloaded with cases. Simply “requiring” that appeals are processed within five years will not make it happen.
  • The state legislative analyst says Prop 66 would actually cost more upfront because of further legal appeals from prisoners.

What does a “yes” vote on Prop 66 mean?

A “yes” vote means you want to keep the death penalty but you want the proposed reforms to speed up the process.

What does a “no” vote mean?

Prop 62 - Death Penalty Repeal

A “no” vote means you don’t want the proposed changes to become law.

There’s another ballot measure, Prop 62, that wants to end the death penalty. How do these two props interact?

If one proposition passes and the other fails, then obviously the winning proposition becomes law.

And if they both fail, things stay the same.

But if they both pass, then the proposition that received the most votes becomes law.

Click here for a cheat sheet on all the California ballot propositions.

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