Deceptive Prop 66 adds new layers of appeals, drains local court resources, creates unrealistic timelines and puts California counties on the hook for millions in attorney fees.
LOS ANGELES – The Yes on 62 campaign released the following statement on the new report by Loyola Law School’s Alarcón Advocacy Center comparing Prop 62 and Prop 66, the two death penalty initiatives on California’s ballot this November:
The death penalty already costs 18 times as much as life in prison without parole. Prop 66 actually manages to increase taxpayer costs by tens of millions of dollars, while making the problems much worse. It adds new layers of appeals, drains local court resources, creates unrealistic timelines and puts California counties on the hook for millions in attorney fees.
If Prop 66 passes, the increased taxpayer costs and local resources spent on death penalty cases will grind justice to a halt in counties like Alameda, Contra Costa, Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Diego, Santa Clara and Ventura. Riverside County, for example, can expect Prop 66 to completely overwhelm its local court’s resources and cost the county nearly $20 million in attorney fees alone.
Prop 66 is poorly written, complicated and expensive. The price tag on these supposed fixes only proves how broken the death penalty really is.
Instead, Prop 62 is the only real solution to a fundamentally unworkable death penalty system. Prop 62 saves California taxpayers $150 million a year and provides certain justice by replacing a failed death penalty system with a strict life sentence.
Key findings on Prop 66 from the Loyola Law School’s Alarcón Advocacy Center report California Votes 2016: An Analysis of the Competing Death Penalty Ballot Initiatives include:
New layers of appeals: Prop 66 takes an already complicated appeals process for death penalty cases and adds “two additional layers of review,” the report finds. It directs petitioners to file their post-conviction habeas petitions in already underfunded and understaffed superior courts. They are then required to file appeals of a denied petition to appellate courts before being heard by the California Supreme Court. The result is a significant increase in workload for the superior and appellate court systems.
Drains local court resources: Enacting Prop 66 will take up a significant to overwhelming percentage of local courts’ resources. There are currently 355 death row inmates in need of counsel for habeas petitions. According to the report, “Prop 66 requires that state habeas counsel file petitions within one year of appointment, as it also requires that hearings in the superior courts be completed within one year. If 355 habeas corpus petitions are processed within the same timeframe, 355 courtrooms and judges will be occupied concurrently.” This is not only unworkable, but in some cases impossible. In Riverside County, more judges will have to be hired just to hear death penalty cases as Prop 66 requires 107% of current judicial resources be devoted to death penalty hearings alone. The prioritizing of death penalty cases – as Prop 66 mandates – would come at the expense of all other matters before the court, both criminal and civil. A court’s ability to handle issues like business claims, family custody hearings and traffic tickets in a timely manner would be negatively impacted.
Unrealistic mandates: Prop 66 moves death penalty cases to the top of the docket and creates an unrealistic timeline for the California Supreme Court, where death penalty cases already take up one-third of the workload. “Deciding all capital appeals and state post-conviction petitions within five years is not only not feasible or advisable – it is not possible,” the report finds. With a backlog of more than “150 fully briefed capital appeals and habeas petitions” awaiting review, and hundreds more in the pipeline, the “California Supreme Court must dedicate its full attention to capital cases for many years to come, to the exclusion of other pressing matters.”
Counties on the hook for attorney costs and legal fees: The added costs of appointing attorneys to 355 death row inmates currently in need of counsel for habeas petitions are significant. “Prop 66 fails to establish a funding source for appointment of state habeas counsel” and leaves counties to pick up 90% of the costs, according to the report.
Death penalty cases handled by inexperienced attorneys: The limited availability of experienced and willing legal counsel for death penalty cases is another major cause of delays. “Prop 66 fails to account for the fact that there are not enough qualified attorneys to handle state habeas cases,” the report finds. Prop 66’s attempt to cure the problem is reckless. It requires superior courts to appoint attorneys to death penalty cases regardless of whether they are experienced or qualified in this uniquely specialized area of criminal law.
May lead to convictions being overturned: Thorough appellate legal review is necessary to satisfy the due process guarantees in both the United States and California constitutions. As the Office of the California Attorney General has argued, the “process for reviewing capital cases is not quick or casual – nor should it be.” Prop 66’s attempt to rush the constitutionally mandated review process “will compromise due process protections and create additional reversals of convictions,” the report found.
Costly death rows built and operated around the state: Prop 66 distributes 747 death row inmates – who require separate housing, guards with specialized training, security level IV facilities and unique physical and mental health accommodations – around the state. “Prop 66 is silent on these and other housing issues that arise with condemned inmate transfer,” according to the report. “The costs will be significant.”
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