A Small Victory for Justice

By Michele Hanisee

A judge has dismissed one of the lawsuits aimed at thwarting the will of voters who last fall passed Prop. 66, the sweeping death penalty reform initiative.

The lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Northern California aimed to delay the resumption of executions by challenging the state’s process for establishing execution procedures. It claimed that under the state Constitution, the Legislature rather than the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has the authority to set execution protocols.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Kimberly Colwell disagreed in a decision released earlier this week.

“The CDCR is arguably the best institution to be tasked with monitoring the development of new injections and monitoring the pain, speed, and reliability of executions as they are carried out in other states,” she wrote.

However, the ACLU lawsuit was not the only challenge to Proposition 66, which preserved the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

As soon as Prop. 66 passed, its opponents, vanquished at the ballot box, rushed to court to block the initiative. The California Supreme Court stayed the initiative pending its review of the lawsuit.

“The lawsuit falsely claims that Prop. 66 would disrupt the courts, cost more money and limit inmates’ ability to appeal. In fact, it does the exact opposite.

Among other things, it requires that a defendant sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentencing, ensuring the appeal will be heard sooner. Furthermore, it will allow the CDCR to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates.

These reforms are badly needed. Over the years, a death sentence in California has morphed into a de facto sentence of life in prison. California has not executed an inmate since 2006, and the death row population has soared past 700, making it the largest in the country.

Despite this week’s legal victory, proponents of a fair and equitable death penalty system still have a number of battles to fight.

The ACLU has vowed to appeal Judge Colwell’s ruling. And the other lawsuit challenging Prop. 66 is still pending before the California Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for 9:30 a.m., June 6th in Los Angeles.

The ADDA and our public safety partners worked hard to secure the passage of Prop. 66. We will continue to vigorously support efforts to defeat the frivolous lawsuits, and we will keep you updated on all developments concerning this critical issue.

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. To contact a Board member, click here.

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