Official Title: Death Penalty. Procedure. Initiative Statute (Click here for related Prop 62.)
CCC Position: OPPOSE
Proposition 66 is an initiative that, if approved by the voters, would amend state law in an attempt to speed up the judicial review of death penalty cases. The Bishops of California have agreed to oppose Proposition 66 and support Proposition 62 (which would repeal the death penalty). Additional information is available below.
Since the current death penalty was enacted in California in 1978, more than 900 individuals have received a death sentence. As of October 2015, 15 have been executed, 102 have died prior to being executed, 747 are in state prison with death sentences, and the remainder have had their sentences reduced by the courts. Most of the offenders who are in prison with death sentences are at various stages of the direct appeal or habeas corpus review process.
Under existing state law, death penalty verdicts are automatically appealed to the California Supreme Court. In these “direct appeals,” the defendants’ attorneys argue that violations of state law or federal constitutional law took place during the trial, such as evidence improperly being included or excluded from the trial. If the California Supreme Court confirms the conviction and death sentence, the defendant can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. In addition to direct appeals, death penalty cases ordinarily involve extensive legal challenges in both state and federal courts. These challenges involve factors of the case different from those considered in direct appeals (such as the claim that the defendant’s counsel was ineffective) and are commonly referred to as “habeas corpus” petitions. Finally, inmates who have received a sentence of death may also request that the Governor reduce their sentence. Currently, the proceedings that follow a death sentence can take a couple of decades to complete in California.
Proposition 66 would make a number of changes to the procedures in death penalty appeals.
First, Proposition 66 imposes time limits for the completion of parts of the direct appeal and habeas corpus processes. Specifically, it requires that the direct appeal and the initial state habeas corpus processes be completed within five years of the sentence of death unless “extraordinary and compelling” reasons justify the delay.
Second, Proposition 66 shifts initial jurisdiction for habeas corpus proceedings from the California Supreme Court to the trial courts. (The Supreme Court would continue to retain initial jurisdiction over direct appeals.) Specifically, the habeas corpus petitions would be assigned to the judge who presided over the original trial unless good cause is shown for the petition to be heard by another judge or another court.
Finally, Proposition 66 changes the process for the appointment of counsel in direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings by shifting such authority to the trial courts. It also requires the Judicial Council and the California Supreme Court to reevaluate and amend the qualifications that attorneys must meet prior to appointment in direct appeal or habeas corpus proceedings in order to (1) ensure competent representation, (2) expand the pool of attorneys eligible to ensure that cases are heard in a timely manner and, (3) allow the state to qualify for expedited review of capital cases in federal courts.
According to the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), Proposition 66 could result in increased state costs that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually for several years related to direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings, with the fiscal impact on such costs being unknown in the longer run. Proposition 66 could also result in potential state correctional savings that could be in the tens of millions of dollars annually. These fiscal effects could vary considerably depending on how certain provisions in the proposition are interpreted and implemented.
CCC Position: OPPOSE
During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we, the Catholic Bishops of California support Proposition 62 which would end the use of the death penalty in California. Our commitment to halt the practice of capital punishment is rooted both in the Catholic faith and our pastoral experience.
All life is sacred – innocent or flawed – just as Jesus Christ taught us and demonstrated repeatedly throughout His ministry. This focus on the preciousness of human life is fundamental to Christianity and most eloquently expressed in the two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk. 12.30-31) Jesus makes clear that to love God we must love our neighbor. Each of us holds an inherent worth derived from being created in God’s own image. Each of us has a duty to love this divine image imprinted on every person. “Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (I Jn. 4.20)
Our support to end the use of the death penalty is also rooted in our unshakeable resolve to accompany and support all victims of crime. They suffer the very painful consequences of criminal acts. With the violent loss of a loved one, a sword has pierced their heart. Their enduring anguish is not addressed by the state-sanctioned perpetuation of the culture of death. As we pray with them and mourn with them we must also stress that the current use of the death penalty does not promote healing. It only brings more violence to a world that has too much violence already. We will continue to promote responsibility, rehabilitation and restoration for everyone impacted by the criminal justice system. Only through their healing will the entire community be healed.
The Bishops of the United States have long opposed the use of capital punishment. In the past, it was sometimes morally justified in order to protect society, but those times have passed. Proposition 62 provides voters with the opportunity to end this practice in California, just as 19 other states have already done.
Capital punishment has repeatedly been shown to be severely and irrevocably flawed in its application. In the long – but absolutely necessary – process of ensuring an innocent person is not put to death, we have seen many accused persons being exonerated as new forms of forensic investigation have enabled us to better scrutinize evidence. The high cost of implementing the death penalty has diverted resources from more constructive and beneficial programs both for rehabilitation and restoration of victims and offenders. Finally, repeated research has demonstrated that the death penalty is applied inconsistently along racial, economic and geographical lines.
For all of these reasons, we must also oppose Proposition 66 which will expedite executions in California. The search for a fair and humane execution process and protocol has failed for decades. Any rush to streamline that process will inevitably result in the execution of more innocent people. Neither the proponents nor the opponents of the death penalty wish this result.
As Catholic Bishops we are heartened by the growth of Catholic lay movements aimed at ending the use of the death penalty. The faithful have heard the words of St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis to stop this practice around the world. As Pope Francis has stated:
A spreading opposition to the death penalty, even as an instrument of legitimate social defense, has developed in public opinion, and this is a sign of hope. In fact, modern societies have the ability to effectively control crime without definitively taking away a criminal’s chance to redeem himself. The issue lies in the context of a perspective on a criminal justice system that is ever more conformed to the dignity of man and God’s design for man and for society. And also a criminal justice system open to the hope of reintegration in society. The commandment “thou shall not kill” has absolute value and pertains to the innocent as well as the guilty. (2/21/16 – Angelus)
In November – the concluding month of the Year of Mercy – Californians have the opportunity to embrace both justice and mercy (cf. Ps. 85.11) in their voting. We strongly urge all voters to prayerfully consider support for Proposition 62 and opposition to Proposition 66.
Supporters of Proposition 66 include Jackie Lacey, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County; Kermit Alexander, a family member of multiple homicide victims; and the Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriffs Association.
Supporters argue that California's death penalty system is ineffective, and that the most heinous criminals sit on death row for 30 years with endless appeals delaying justice and costing taxpayers hundreds of million of dollars. Supporters believe the solution is to mend, not end, California’s death penalty. Proposition 66 was written by death penalty prosecutors who know the system inside and out. Supporters claim the reforms made by this measure will save California taxpayers over $30 million annually and bring closure to victims’ families. Supporters believe that when horrible crimes occur, and a jury unanimously finds a criminal guilty and separately unanimously recommends death, the appeals should be heard within five years, and the killer executed.
Opponents of Proposition 66 include the California Catholic Conference; Jeanne Woodford, former warden of California’s Death Row prison; Francisco Carillo Jr., an innocent man wrongfully convicted in Los Angeles County; and Antonio Villaraigosa, former mayor of Los Angeles.
Opponents argue that Proposition 66 is a poorly-written and purposefully confusing initiative that would add layers of government bureaucracy, inundate courts, and increase taxpayer spending on prisons at the expense of other priorities. This measure removes important legal safeguards and limits a death row prisoner's ability to present new evidence of their innocence-- greatly increasing California’s risk of executing an innocent person.
Opponents of Proposition 66 argue that it enacts dangerous legal shortcuts, increasing California's risk of executing an innocent person. These include arbitrary time limits, mandated appointment of attorneys lacking experience that could lead to costly mistakes at trial and requiring lower courts to hear death penalty cases before other caseloads.
Reflections on Church Teaching:
Pope Francis, Message to 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty (June 22 2016).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means” (CCC, 2267). The test of whether the death penalty can be used is not the gravity of the offense, but whether it is absolutely necessary to protect society. The Catechism adds that today “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent’” (CCC, 2267).
In 2005, the Catholic Bishops of the United States issued, A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death. In the document the Bishops stated that the gift of life must be respected and protected; “that every life is a precious gift from God" (see Gn 2:7, 21-23) and that we are all created in God’s image and redeemed by Jesus Christ, who himself was crucified. They acknowledged that sentences such as “life in prison without parole” provide non-lethal alternatives and called for an end to the use of the death penalty in the United States, stating “it is time for our nation to abandon the illusion that we can protect life by taking life.”
"Ending the death penalty would be one important step away from a culture of death and toward building a culture of life." (United States Catholic Bishops, 2005. A Culture of Life and the Penalty of Death)
To learn more about Restorative Justice issues in California, visit our website at http://www.cacatholic.org/restorative-justice
California Catholic Conference National Crime Victims Rights Week Statement, April 2016
Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective On Crime And Criminal Justice, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000