Proposition 66: Death Penalty. Procedures.
Should the time it takes for legal challenges to death sentences be significantly shortened?
Death-penalty convictions are always automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court, and may also go through a second stage of appeals in the courts, called “habeas corpus petitions.” This second stage of the appeals process can take 15–25 years. The state pays for both the defense and the prosecution of appeals, at a cost of $55 million annually. There are currently 748 people on death row in California. Because the state’s lethal injection protocols are currently under legal review, no executions have taken place since 2006.
Prop. 66 proposes a number of changes in the way appeals of death penalty convictions are handled, with the goal of significantly shortening the time the total process takes. Instead of going directly to the California Supreme Court, habeas petitions would be heard first by the lower courts in which the initial trials were handled.
Both direct appeals and habeas petitions would have to be completed within five years from the time of sentencing. Habeas appeals would have to be filed within a year of counsel being appointed and would have to be decided by the courts within a year of filing. Additional appeals would be limited. Appeals counsel would be appointed immediately, and qualified appeals attorneys who handle noncapital offenses would be required to accept appointment for capital cases if they want to remain on the list of qualified appeals attorneys.
All inmates sentenced to life without parole would be required to work; the maximum amount of their earnings that could be used for reparations to their victims would be raised from 50 to 70 percent. Death row inmates could be housed in any California prison rather than just in a few prisons. Execution methods would be exempted from public oversight.
The fiscal effects of Prop. 66 are very difficult to project because there are varying possible consequences of its many provisions. Prop. 66 could increase the cost of appeals because it requires habeas petitions to be heard by lower courts first. It would also have higher near-term costs, perhaps in the tens of millions of dollars annually, to pay for processing currently pending appeals in the required time frame. Potential state prison savings could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually.