Court hears case against Prop. 66

Jus­tices seem split on the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the mea­sure vot­ers passed last year to speed up ex­e­cu­tions.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Maura Dolan

The Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court ap­peared closely di­vided Tues­day over the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of a bal­lot mea­sure passed in Novem­ber to speed up ex­e­cu­tions.

Propo­si­tion 66, spon­sored by prose­cu­tors, would re­quire courts to rapidly re­view death penalty ap­peals, force more crim­i­nal de­fense lawyers to rep­re­sent death row in­mates and re­move pub­lic re­view re­quire­ments for the state’s lethal in­jec­tion pro­ce­dures.

An op­po­nent of the death penalty sued to block the mea­sure af­ter the elec­tion, ar­gu­ing it usurped the power of the ju­di­cial branch to run the courts.

Dur­ing ar­gu­ments in Los An­ge­les, sev­eral jus­tices said it was clear that the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court could not meet the mea­sure’s fiveyear dead­lines for re­solv­ing death penalty ap­peals without sacri­fic­ing at­ten­tion to other kinds of cases.

When told by the mea­sure’s ad­vo­cates that the dead­lines were mere tar­gets, the jus­tices noted that the word­ing of the bal­lot mea­sure sug­gested oth­er­wise.

“So it is a manda­tory dead­line that is tooth­less?” asked Jus­tice Leon­dra Kruger.

Jus­tice Mar­i­ano-Florentino Cuel­lar said the mea­sure ap­peared to con­tain “pretty stark time lim­its.”

“If you are ask­ing us not to view the five-year time limit as bind­ing, what ex­actly is the speedup?” Cuel­lar asked.

Jus­tice Good­win Liu also seemed doubt­ful of the mea­sure’s va­lid­ity. If the dead­lines are not true man­dates, how is the court to know what com­pli­ance means, he asked.

“We are talk­ing about sys­temic change” if the ini­tia­tive is en­forced, he said.

Jus­tice Kathryn Mickle Werde­gar, a mod­er­ate Re­pub­li­can ap­pointee who has joined the lib­er­als at times, could be the swing vote on the seven-jus­tice court.

She was the first to raise the point that there ap­peared to be no con­se­quence for the court if the dead­lines were missed. So the time man­dates were merely “as­pi­ra­tional, directory, hope­ful?” she asked.

The court has a back­log of more than 300 death penalty ap­peals ready to be heard and de­cided. Le­gal an­a­lysts have said the dead­lines would force the court to de­cide death penalty cases al­most ex­clu­sively for the next sev­eral years if the court up­holds them.

Liu asked Jose A. Zeli­don-Zepeda, de­fend­ing the mea­sure for the state at­tor­ney gen­eral, whether the

dead­lines were bind­ing. “Yes and no,” he said. Cuel­lar told him to clar­ify his an­swer. Zeli­don-Zepeda said the time lim­its were bind­ing but there was no con­se­quence for fail­ing to meet them.

“The ini­tia­tive tries to speed up the process,” he said.

Kent S. Schei­deg­ger, ar­gu­ing for the pro­po­nents of the mea­sure, told the court it could strike down the pro­vi­sion es­tab­lish­ing the dead­lines and still keep the rest of the mea­sure.

Chief Jus­tice Tani Can­tilSakauye and Jus­tice Ming W. Chin re­moved them­selves from the case be­cause the law­suit named the Ju­di­cial Coun­cil as a de­fen­dant.

Both serve on the coun­cil, a pol­i­cy­mak­ing body for the court sys­tem, which would have to make new rules to im­ple­ment Propo­si­tion 66.

Two court of ap­peals judges took their place: Santa Ana-based Jus­tice Ray­mond J. Ikola, an ap­pointee of for­mer Gov. Gray Davis, and Sacra­men­to­based Jus­tice An­drea L. Hoch, an ap­pointee of for­mer Gov. Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger.

The few ques­tions the two asked in­di­cated pos­si­ble sup­port for the mea­sure.

“Who knows that a fiveyear time limit can’t be made un­til we try it?” Ikola asked.

Jus­tice Carol A. Cor­ri­gan, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor and one of the court’s more con­ser­va­tive mem­bers, also seemed in­clined to rule in fa­vor of the mea­sure.

When a lawyer for the chal­lenger ar­gued that vot­ers were promised the courts would meet the new dead­lines, Cor­ri­gan ap­peared ir­ri­tated.

Did that mean it would be im­pos­si­ble to “dis­pose of th­ese cap­i­tal cases in less than 15 years,” the av­er­age time it now takes to re­solve death penalty ap­peals? she asked skep­ti­cally.

Ker­mit Alexan­der, a for­mer UCLA and NFL foot­ball player whose mother, sis­ter and two neph­ews were mur­dered in 1984, spon­sored Propo­si­tion 66. He sat in a cen­ter seat in the back row of the court­room, wear­ing a black suit.

Alexan­der noted that one of the killers of his fam­ily mem­bers has been on death row for nearly 32 years. Alexan­der wants to see him ex­e­cuted.

If al­lowed to take ef­fect, the mea­sure could re­sult in the re­sump­tion of ex­e­cu­tions within sev­eral months. It passed with 51% of the vote. A com­pet­ing mea­sure that would have re­placed the death penalty with life without pa­role lost.

Sup­port­ers of Propo­si­tion 66 ar­gue that ma­jor change is nec­es­sary to clear up a back­log of hun­dreds of ap­peals and be­gin ex­e­cut­ing in­mates af­ter an 11-year hia­tus. Cal­i­for­nia has more than 750 con­demned in­mates, the largest death row in the na­tion.

Pro­po­nents blame de­fense lawyers for re­quest­ing too many time ex­ten­sions to file writ­ten ar­gu­ments and the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court for grant­ing them.

A de­ci­sion is due within 90 days.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.