SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The fate of California’s death penalty is still up in the air despite voters passing Prop 66 in November.
Fifty-one percent of voters realized that the state’s death penalty system was bogged down by decades of appeals and needed reform, and prop 66 was their answer.
The vote was to keep the death penalty– but speed up the process so it doesn’t take decades.
“This was the will of the voters, they want the system fixed and that’s what we’re gonna do,” said Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
But the ballot initiative that vowed to speed up executions is now stalled in the courts after a law-suit was filed to halt it.
Now the California Supreme Court is concerned about a key provision of the measure.
Proponents of Prop. 66 said the measure would shorten the time of state appeals for death penalty cases to 5 years.
But on Tuesday several Supreme Court justices said — that the 5-year deadline was just not realistic.
The language of the ballot initiative states “within five years of the adoption of the initial rules … the state courts shall complete the state appeal,” with a big emphasis now being on the word “shall.”
During oral arguments Tuesday in Los Angeles, several CA Supreme Court Justices made it clear that the court would not be able to meet the measure’s 5- year deadline for resolving death penalty appeals without compromising attention to other types of cases.
The justices are now questioning if this provision of the measure was truly mandatory.
“We all realize when we wrote it we aren’t going to fix it overnight, but we’ve got to have time limits,” said Schubert.
Schubert says it wasn’t a hard and fast timeline, but merely a target.
“We recognize that the justices focused on one or two provisions of it, but there are many other provisions of the initiative that will in fact reform the death penalty,” she said.
Kent Scheidegger, the Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, says the 5-year goal may not be achievable in the short term, but it is in the long term.
The court already has a backlog of more than 300 death penalty appeals ready to be heard and decided.
“The initiative does relieve the Supreme Court of a good chunk of its workload by moving it to the superior courts, and once the backlog is worked off, the 5-year deadline will be reasonable,” said Scheidegger.
But Ron Briggs, who supported getting rid of the death penalty, is the one who filed a lawsuit against the state once Prop 66 passed. He shares the justice’s concerns saying the supporters of the measure are now backtracking from language that said they “shall” complete the state appeals process in 5-years.
“They sold the voters on shall and gave them “may” …so you may never speed the system up cause there’s no consequence to it,” said Briggs.
Briggs is hopeful that the Supreme court with throw Prop 66 out.
A California Supreme Court decision is expected in 90 days.