Criticism of Death Penalty Ruling Is Actually High Praise

By Michele Hanisee

Californians support the death penalty, as evidenced by the passage of Prop 66 in 2016 and the defeat of two separate initiatives that sought to end the death penalty in 2016 and 2012. A recent disjointed op/ed by Erwin Chemerinsky attacking the California Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Prop 66 actually proves the voter’s wisdom in passing Prop 66.

Prop 66 was necessitated by the delay tactics of death penalty opponents. For example, when a new protocol was introduced, death penalty opponents took advantage of procedural rules that required a response to any comment on the protocol-even from citizens from another country-by flooding the state with tens of thousands of specious comments solely to delay the process.

One key provision of Prop 66 removed the longest source of unnecessary delay-the delay in appointing counsel for death penalty appeals-by requiring immediate appointment of counsel at the time of sentence. This provision apparently sparked the ire of the dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law.

It is revealing to hear Chemerinsky, an outspoken anti-death penalty activist, complain about this solution to one of the major causes of delay. Contrary to his claim, the problem is funding and not a lack of qualified counsel. There is no shortage of lawyers in this state and the specific terms of Prop 66 require that appointed lawyers meet “the qualifications for capital appeals.” Simply put, more lawyers will reduce the delays in filing and hearing appeals. This undoubtedly disappoints death penalty opponents who don’t want the system fixed, even if the fix enhances due process by allowing an inmate with a legitimate claim to have that claim heard sooner.

Prop 66 is a comprehensive measure that addresses the various delay tactics employed by death penalty opponents and provides a source of funding that can be used to help implement the changes. By eliminating costly special housing for death row inmates, Prop 66 can save tens of millions of dollars every year that can be used instead to pay for additional attorneys. It also requires death row inmates to work and to pay restitution to victims.

While these changes may infuriate death penalty opponents who have resorted to delay, delay, delay as a substitute for their failure to repeal the death penalty, Prop 66 provides the best solutions we have seen in a decade to make the system work without sacrificing due process.

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.

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