Prosecutors, crime victims and Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they are prepared to go to the ballot if the Democratic-controlled Legislature refuses to act on a package of bills to speed up California's death penalty.
At a news conference held at the Capitol, the death penalty advocates said their proposed legislation could cut nearly in half the 15 to 20 years it now takes for the state's criminal justice system to process the cases. The bills would not affect appeals in the federal system that routinely extend death penalty delays beyond two decades.
"The vast majority of Californians are in support of the death penalty, but they're frustrated because the average (delay) of 17 years is just too long, and 20, 21, 24 years is way too long," John Poyner, president of the California District Attorneys Association and the chief prosecutor in Colusa County, told reporters.
Lance Lindsey, executive director of San Francisco-based Death Penalty Focus, a group that staunchly opposes capital punishment, said the thrust of legislative package unveiled Wednesday "is moving in the contrary direction" of concerns about wrongful executions.
"The notion of speeding up the death penalty is contrary to what the best experts in the criminal justice system and the judicial system are concluding," Lindsey said. "There has to be more care, more deliberation. There is too much error in the system, and I think this is misguided to say the least."
Backers of the legislation said they do not expect their bills to make it through the Legislature. The key bills would cut down on the time it takes to appoint an attorney to represent a convicted murderer facing the death penalty and force officials to correct mistakes in the official record of a murder case within 120 days of a conviction.
They said they want to go to the ballot in either June or November of 2010.