Calif. Supreme Court weighs ballot measure to hasten death penalty

A ballot measure intended to speed up the application of the death penalty is now being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

For its part, the California Catholic Conference has repeated its warning that a speedy death penalty risks further injustice.

“The last three Popes have said that the death penalty is no longer needed," Steve Pehanich, director of communication and advocacy at the California Catholic Conference, told CNA. “We don’t think it’s needed any longer in California. We have supported the end of its use, and we continue to do so."

The Catholic conference opposed Prop. 66, whose fate is now before the state’s Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments over the ballot initiative’s constitutionality June 6.

The ballot measure imposes time limits on death penalty reviews and requires death row inmates to work and pay restitution to victims. It requires attorneys who are qualified for the most serious appeals in non-capital appeal cases to take appeals in death penalty cases.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit before the Supreme Court argue that some of the requirements for appeals, like the five-year limit, are simply impossible to meet. University of California-Berkeley School of Law professor Elizabeth Semel told Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio the proposition could violate the constitutional separation of powers by taking away court authority.

Backers of the measure argued against objections about its practicality, saying it should be given a chance to work.

The California Catholic Conference has not taken a position on the merits of the lawsuit. However, Pehanich said Prop. 66’s stated goal was “to speed up executions."

“There are very good reasons why you have to take your time on this. You don’t want to be wrong. You don’t want to execute an innocent person," he said. “Speeding them up just makes matters worse. It makes the likelihood of executing innocent people all the greater."

The Catholic conference strongly backed a different amendment in the 2016 election: Proposition 62, which promised to end the death penalty and reduce death sentences to life in prison without parole. That measure was favored by only 46.8 percent of voters.

However, 50.9 percent of voters backed Prop. 66.

Pehanich said there was political strategy behind two competing ballot measures.

“Proposition 66 was really put on the ballot to confuse the situation," he said. “It’s a very common technique in California ballot politics. If you don’t like the proposition, for a small amount of money you can get a different proposition. People look at the two and just scratch their heads. They don’t vote for either one."

California’s Supreme Court has 90 days to issue a ruling on Prop. 66.

By Kevin J. Jones













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