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Proposition 66: Death Penalty Procedures. Removes Legal Protection.

The California Labor Federation does not support this measure.

vote-no

Click here to download California Labor’s 2016 Endorsements & Ballot Measures Analyses

A YES vote on this measure means:

State law would be changed to expedite death penalty appeals and executions, Death Row inmates could be housed in non-Death Row prisons and required to work and pay restitution to victims.

A NO vote on this measure means:

Current law governing Death Row inmates and the death penalty will remain unchanged.

Official Secretary of State Ballot Summary:   

  • Changes procedures governing state court appeals and petitions challenging death penalty convictions and sentences.
  • Designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions.
  • Imposes time limits on state court death penalty review.
  • Requires appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals.
  • Exempts prison officials from existing regulation process for developing execution methods.
  • Authorizes death row inmate transfers among California state prisons.
  • States death row inmates must work and pay victim restitution.
  • States other voter approved measures related to death penalty are null and void if this measure receives more affirmative votes.

Background:

California is one of 31 states that allow the death penalty. In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment and was unconstitutional in the state. In response,  voters passed Proposition 17 which amended the California Constitution to make the death penalty constitutional. Current state law makes first degree murder punishable by death or life imprisonment without the possibility of parole when specified “special circumstances” of the crime have been charged and proven in court. Special circumstances that can be charged include when the murder was carried out for financial gain, was especially cruel, or was committed while the defendant was engaged in other specified criminal activities.

Under existing state law, death penalty verdicts are automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court. In these “direct appeals,” the defendants’ attorneys argue that violations of state law or federal constitutional law took place during the trial. If the California Supreme Court confirms the conviction and death sentence, the defendant can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. Habeas Corpus petitions involve factors of the case different from those considered in direct appeals. Inmates who have received a sentence of death may also request that the Governor reduce their sentence. Currently, the appeals hat follow a death sentence can take a couple of decades to complete.

Since 1978, over 900 individuals have received a death sentence in California. As of October 2015, 15 have been executed, 102 have died prior to being executed, 747 are in prison with death sentences, and 64 had their sentences reduced by the courts. Three inmates on death row have been found innocent of the crimes they were convicted of and freed. Most of the offenders who are in prison with death sentences are at various stages of the direct appeal or habeas corpus review process. The state currently has various security regulations that result in increased security costs for these inmates. For example, inmates under a death sentence are currently required to be placed in separate cells, whereas most other inmates can share cells.

Executions of inmates in California are generally by lethal injection, but have been on hold for ten years after the three-drug injection used in executions was deemed unconstitutional because it may be too painful. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recently promulgated regulations for use of a new single-drug protocol for lethal injections. The regulations grant the department the ability to compound their own lethal injection drugs without having to purchase the drug from manufacturers, many of which prohibit the use of their drugs to execute inmates.

This measure would impose time limits on appellate briefings and review of death penalty cases. It would also mandate that any lawyer serving the indigent could be appointed in a death penalty appeal, regardless if they volunteer to take those cases, as is now the practice.  The measure would require Death Row inmates to work, and for 70% of their wages and income from other sources to be used to pay restitution to victims, if the inmate owes a restitution fine or restitution order. It would also allow Death Row inmates to be housed in the general population. It allows the court that rendered the death sentence  to have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any claim from the condemned inmate that the method of execution is invalid. If the court does find the method of execution invalid, it can order an alternative method of death. It also exempts regulations promulgated by CDCR from the Administration Procedures Act and requires that a court order an alternate method of execution if the current one is found invalid or has a federal injunction.

Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance estimate of fiscal impact: 

Increased state costs that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually for several years related to direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings, with the fiscal impact on such costs being unknown in the longer run. Potential state correctional savings that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually.

Support and Opposition:

Supporters include Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings, Pete Wilson, the Peace Officer Research Assoc. of California and many elected officials, law enforcement and District Attorneys. They argue that murder victims and their families are entitled to justice and due process. They state that Death Row killers have murdered over 1000 victims, including 229 children and 43 police officers; 235 victims were raped and 90 victims were tortured. They point out that hundreds of condemned inmates have sat on Death Row for over 20 years and argue that reforming the appeals process for death penalty cases will ensure fairness.

Opponents include the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, argue that the state’s legal process in death penalty cases exists for a reason: to make sure that innocent people aren’t executed. They say this measure guts these important protections by applying unrealistic and arbitrary timelines, greatly increasing the chance of sending an innocent person to the death chamber. They state that this initiative will lead to the execution of innocent people.

Prior Positions:

The Labor Federation supported Proposition 34 in 2012 which would have repealed the state death penalty.


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