Plan to Speed Executions Halted in California

(CN) – Six weeks after California voters approved a measure to speed up California’s death penalty appeals process, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday froze the implementation of Proposition 66 in order to hear a challenge from capital punishment opponents.

The court will allow the lawsuit filed by former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp to continue and gave respondents Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Kamala Harris until Jan. 9 to file a response. The ruling provides “time for further consideration” of Van de Kamp’s attempt to halt the contentious new law.

Voters narrowly approved the death penalty reform measure, which was certified on Friday by state officials with 51 percent of the vote.

Supporters say the measure will speed up California’s dysfunctional death penalty process by limiting state appeals of death sentences to five years and transfer habeas petitions from the state Supreme Court back to the court and judge that heard the original trial. California has executed just 13 inmates since 1978, despite having the largest death row of any state.

Van de Kamp and Ron Briggs, whose father authored the measure that reinstated the death penalty in 1978, claim Proposition 66 would eliminate inmates’ ability to file proper appeals by setting unrealistic and short timelines for judges to handle often complex cases. They filed their challenge with the California Supreme Court one day after the general election.

Critics of capital punishment placed a competing measure on the November ballot which sought to abolish the death penalty in California. They argued the seldom-used capital punishment system costs taxpayers billions and carries a heightened risk of executing an innocent person.

That measure, Proposition 62, was rejected by voters, receiving just 46 percent of the vote.


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