By Michele Hanisee
So much for respecting the will of the voters.
The moment the final ballot count proved that voters had enacted Prop. 66 – the death penalty reform initiative – opponents rushed to court to block the initiative. Although the legal challenge is limited to just a few clauses of Prop. 66, the Supreme Court has just announced that implementation of all parts of the initiative will be stayed pending their review of the lawsuit.
Prop. 66 preserved the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system. The ADDA and our public safety partners worked hard to promote it and secure its passage. At the same time they passed Prop. 66, voters rejected a competing initiative that would have eliminated the death penalty and allowed criminals who kill cops or rape and murder children to live out their lives in prison.
The opponents of Prop. 66 falsely claim that Prop. 66 would disrupt the courts, cost more money and limit the ability to appeal. In fact, it does the exact opposite. Among other things, it will require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s appeal will be heard sooner. It will require appeals be heard within five years. And it will also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates.
Having failed to convince the voters, death penalty opponents have resorted to the courts to try to thwart the will of the voters. It is cruelly ironic that the opponents are using the same tactics they use in death penalty appeals – frivolous legal challenges in court – to prevent implementation of the initiative that would have reduced the number of frivolous legal challenges in court. The same opponents who claim in one breath that the reforms of Prop. 66 won’t work, also complain in their motion that “It will also make it more likely, and more immediate, for persons sentenced to death to face their executions.”
The basic concept of democracy seems most lost on those who claim to be fighting for due process. Death penalty opponents refuse to accept that the citizens of California voted not just to keep the death penalty but also to reform the appellate court system and ensure the death penalty is carried out in a timely manner.
The Supreme Court’s decision to issue a blanket stay without hearing from the proponents of Prop. 66 is disappointing, but it is, at this point, nothing more than a minor setback. Rest assured the ADDA will vigorously support the effort to defeat this frivolous lawsuit.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.