Prop 66 Will Create a Bureaucratic Nightmare, Causing More Delays

While claiming to “speed up” review of death penalty cases, Prop 66 actually adds additional layers of court review to the process, making it more cumbersome and inevitably more time consuming.

Currently, the California state court post-conviction review process in death penalty cases consists of two steps: the direct appeal and the habeas corpus petition, both reviewed by the California Supreme Court.

Prop 66 would make this a four-step process.

Bureaucracy Flow Chart


Proponents may believe that this new process would move more quickly because: 1) habeas cases would be distributed to courts all over the state, and 2) the Supreme Court would not actually review most habeas cases. Proponents are mistaken on both counts.

Death penalty cases are not evenly distributed across the state.

Death sentences are disproportionately concentrated in just a few counties, notably Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego. As a result, the increased workload of the Initiative would fall largely on a small number of judges both at the Superior Court and appellate court level.

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At the same time, the California Supreme Court would continue to be the last step in what would become a lengthier process, and thus continue to be the bottleneck in the process. The Court’s task would be complicated by the need to review decisions made by judges at the Superior Court and Courts of Appeal who have no experience handling capital habeas cases. The result would be mistakes and inconsistent decisions, forcing the Supreme Court to carefully scrutinize every case. Moreover, each step in the process only increases the length of the record and the opportunity for error, again increasing the complexity of the task for the Supreme Court.

Since all death penalty cases must be reviewed by the Supreme Court before moving into federal court, it is more efficient to immediately send the cases to the Supreme Court, rather than have them pass through two additional levels of state court review before reaching the state Supreme Court. Yet Prop 66 eliminates what is already a streamlined process.

This poorly-written and confusing initiative would add layers of government bureaucracy, inundate courts, and increase taxpayer spending on prisons at the expense of other priorities.

– Jeanne Woodford, former Warden of California’s death row