Prop 66: You Say “Mandatory;” I Say “Directory”

Today the California Supreme Court filed its opinion in Briggs v. Brown, the first in what promises to be a long line of challenges to Prop 66, the “Death Penalty Reform and Savings Act of 2016.”  The majority upheld various provisions of Prop 66, primarily pertaining to habeas corpus petitions, but struggled over the 5-year deadline for resolution of capital appeals, ultimately concluding that, despite the deadline being a prime component of the initiative, that deadline was “directive only,” basically because it is unrealistic and impossible to enforce.  Justice Cuellar, joined by 4/3’s Justice Ikola sitting on assignment, took the more straightforward approach:  “A statutory limit on the amount of time a court may spend deciding a case is an intrusion on quintessential judicial functions and violates the California Constitution’s separation of powers provision.”  That conclusion makes more sense to me, but — either way — these cases are not going to be decided within 5 years.

In addition to a short course on how to argue a statute only is “directory” or “aspirational,” the opinion is notable for Justice Liu’s concurring opinion describing in detail the mechanics of the process for post-conviction review in capital cases, details of which very few voters were aware when presented with the proposition.   If your eye glaze over during the habeas corpus discussion, I suggest you skip to the concurrence.

Read the opinion:

http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S238309.PDF