California To Resume Executions After Court Upholds Death Penalty Reforms

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a law expediting the trial process for capital punishment was not in conflict with the California constitution.

The court ruled that Proposition 66, which the state passed by referendum in 2016, did not impose a strict time limit on courts for resolving capital punishment cases, which would have been constitutional. California law guarantees an appeal to all death row inmates, and before Proposition 66, cases frequently dragged on for more than 10 years. The proposition directs, but does not require, the state Supreme Court to resolve death row cases within five years. The ruling means that California could start executing death row inmates within the next few months.

“We conclude that the five-year review limit in section 190.6, subdivision (d) is directive only,” the majority opinion reads. “Its provision that the courts ‘shall complete the state appeal and the initial state habeas corpus review in capital cases’ within five years is properly construed as an exhortation to the parties and the courts to handle cases as expeditiously as is consistent with the fair and principled administration of justice.”

The court clarified that, had the five-year limit been a hard limit, it would both have been unconstitutional and impractical. California has 748 inmates waiting on death row, with 300 appeals yet to be litigated, and the court would need to devote an impractical amount of time to capital punishment cases in order to litigate them all within five years.

Furthermore, the court stated that separation of powers provisions in the California constitution demand that no legislation can place hard deadlines on court decisions, even legislation passed by referendum.

Proposition 66 will now go into effect for the first time since its approval in November 2016. The legislation had been blocked from taking effect by ongoing litigation since the day California voters approved it.

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Tags : california capital punishment death penalty
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