The California Supreme Court decided Thursday that a key provision in last year’s ballot measure to speed executions failed to impose strict deadlines for resolving death penalty appeals, the Los Angeles Times reports. Proposition 66, sponsored by prosecutors and passed by 51 percent of voters, was intended to remove various hurdles that have prevented the state from executing an inmate in more than 10 years. The new ruling left most of the initiative intact, leading one of the sponsors to predict that executions would resume in months.
The decision, signed by five of the seven justices, construed the measure’s requirement that death penalty appeals must be decided within five years as “directive,” not mandatory. That deadline is merely “an exhortation to the parties and the courts to handle cases as expeditiously as is consistent with the fair and principled administration of justice,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the majority. Because of a huge backlog of appeals, the California Supreme Court would have to spend 90 percent of its time on death penalty cases for at least the next five years to meet the five-year deadlines, legal analysts said. Without a strict timetable, appeals can take decades to resolve.
Michael Rushford, president of a pro-death penalty group that helped sponsored the measure, said 18 inmates on death row who have exhausted their appeals don’t have “much time left.”