Voters in California have had a long, mixed relationship with the death penalty. California lawmakers and judges are usually on the forefront of leading the country in criminal justice reforms, but the state’s extensive use of voter referendums in setting policy often creates a populist backlash against such reforms, even if the “backlash” is fueled by only a tiny majority of voters. In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, but voters later overruled the court’s ruling and reinstated the death penalty. In 2012, 48% of voters voted to repeal the death penalty while 52% of voters voted to keep it. And, again in 2016, voters rejected a repeal measure by a 54-46% margin. Last year’s election contained another death penalty measure, however, as Proposition 66 passed, which is intended to limit the time a person on death row has to appeal. But Proposition 66’s passage may not only affect the way death penalty appeals are handled, as it threatens to have a significant effect on all types of state court appeals in both civil and criminal cases.
What Proposition 66 Does
Proposition 66, which passed with only a 51-49% margin, placed a limit of five years for a person sentenced to the death penalty to complete any appeals of the death sentence handed down. The measure also required that the convicted individual present his or her habeas corpus petition to the judge who oversaw the criminal trial and originally handed down the death penalty sentence.
While these measures are clearly designed to make death penalty appeals more challenging for prisoners awaiting execution, they will, if implemented, likely have a collateral effect on all other parties seeking justice through the appeals process by forcing courts to address all death penalty appeals within five years. There are hundreds of death penalty appeals currently backlogged in the courts, and, given the time and resources necessary to address those appeals alone, state appeals judges will be forced to spend the vast majority of their time on dealing only with capital appeals to the detriment of others parties awaiting appeal. According to Jon Eisenberg, President of the California Academy of Appellate Lawyers, “Prop. 66 would require the California Supreme Court to decide virtually nothing but death penalty appeals for at least the next five years — almost no civil cases at all and no criminal cases other than capital murder.”
Legal Challenges to Proposition 66
Whether this future comes to pass in which an estimated 90% of cases heard on appeal in California are death penalty cases will be at least in part determined by whether the California Supreme Court allows Proposition 66 to be implemented. John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General of California, and others filed a constitutional challenge against implementation of Proposition 66 the day after the November 2016 election, and the California Supreme Court stayed the implementation of new rules in December 2016. The court is currently expected to rule on whether to allow the new rules to go forward in August of this year.
Help In Your Criminal Appeal
If you have been unfairly convicted and/or sentenced for a crime, you may have grounds to appeal. The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, contact Mr. Parker today for a 30 minute no obligation consultation.