Prop 66 is a Costly Experiment with Justice

Every reform intended to “speed up” California’s death penalty over the last thirty years has had the exact opposite effect, while increasing costs to taxpayers. Prop 66 is no different. It proposes changes that will make the system more expensive, complicated, bureaucratic, and slow. If enacted, implementing Prop 66 would cost California taxpayers tens of millions of dollars per year just to pay for new layers of government bureaucracy and court staff. Prop 66 also allows the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to build new death row facilities anywhere in the state, which would cost taxpayers unknown millions.

Prop 66 Requires Hiring Hundreds of New Attorneys Who Will Need to Be Paid More

The Proposed Initiative requires the appointment of literally hundreds of attorneys and legal staff to implement. That is because California currently has an enormous backlog of death penalty cases awaiting appointment of counsel.

As of August 2, 2016:

  • 46 inmates are awaiting appointment of both an appellate attorney and a habeas corpus attorney
  • 310 inmates have been appointed an appellate attorney, but are still awaiting appointment of a habeas corpus attorney


  • = 356 attorneys are needed for habeas corpus petitions (46+310=356)
  • = 48 appellate attorneys needed for the direct appeal
  • = 402 defense attorneys needed just in cases now pending
Ten Counties Hit Hardest by Prop

This doesn’t account for the new death sentences to be imposed in 2016 and beyond. It is unrealistic to expect one lawyer to prepare a habeas petition from scratch in the one year that Prop 66 would allow, so these numbers will likely be much higher.

But defense attorneys are not the only expense. Death penalty cases require a team of specially qualified investigators and mitigation specialists, and specially qualified mental health professionals and other experts. The state awards $50,000 per case for investigation fees. And because the state will need to recruit new lawyers who are not now working on death penalty cases, they will all need to be trained at taxpayer expense. In addition, it is not enough to simply increase the staffing of the defense: a similar increase in staffing and resources of the Attorney General’s Office will also be required.

Even assuming (unrealistically) that fees are not increased, in order to simply file habeas petitions in the backlog of 356 cases within the one-year timeframe using private attorneys, the state would need to spend $106.8 million in defense costs in the first year alone. This number does not include additional costs likely needed to recruit and train the hundreds of lawyers who have never previously litigated a capital case, as well as increased costs to the prosecution and the superior courts to handle this boom of cases.

This figure is calculated as follows:

$250,000 flat fee cost for the defense team (lawyer, investigator, experts, paralegal)
$50,000 flat fee to conduct the investigation
356 cases without habeas counsel

= $106.8 million dollars in the first year

Note: This calculation does not account for additional costs to the district attorneys and Attorney General.

According to nonpartisan analysis from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), Prop 66 could cost “tens of millions of dollars annually” with “unknown” costs beyond that. Read the LAO’s report here.

The bottom line, Prop 66 is not the real reform our criminal justice system needs. Instead, it is a costly and reckless experiment with justice. Vote No on Prop 66


Prop 66 is so flawed, that it’s impossible to know for sure all the hidden costs it will inflict on California taxpayers.

–John Van de Kamp, former Attorney General of California.