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CA Supreme Court Slows Down Speedy Death Law

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on December 23, 2016 6:00 AM

The California Supreme Court has stayed a voter-approved measure to speed up death penalty cases, giving opponents time to press their case through the court

Prop. 66, which was certified for implementation last week, authorizes more lawyers to take death penalty cases and sets a five-year timeline for appeals. Opponents have sued to invalidate the measure.

In a one-page order, the court said it was providing "time for further consideration" of a pending legal challenge "to permit the filing and consideration of papers in opposition to the petition." The court said the parties should complete their briefs in January.

Long Row to Death Penalty

California, with 749 inmates awaiting execution, has the largest death row in the country. No one has been executed in California since 2006 when a judge ruled in that the state's administration of lethal injection was cruel and unusual punishment. Some appeals have taken up to 25 years.

Voters faced opposing initiatives on the death penalty this year. Fifty one percent voted to speed up executions through Prop. 66, while forty-six percent voted to abolish the death penalty under Prop. 62. Ron Briggs, a vocal opponent of the death penalty, and former California Attorney General John Van De Kamp, filed their lawsuit the day after the election.

In their petition, they say Prop. 66 "will result in immediate increased expenditures of public funds, a suppression of legitimate challenges, and a decrease in counsels' ability to represent their clients." They also contend it sets "an inordinately short timeline for the courts to review those complex cases."

Pending Cases, Future Changes

Lethal injections were used to put inmates to death at San Quentin 11 times from 1996 through Jan. 17, 2006, but no executions have taken place since then because of legal challenges. Hearings were held earlier this year for public comment on proposed changes.

Officials plan to use a new lethal injection method that uses a single drug to replace a three-drug mixture that has been used in California and elsewhere. The controversial mixture has resulted in prolonged and painful executions, some lasting for hours.

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