The California Supreme Court published an opinion Thursday that limited time constraints imposed by Proposition 66, a ballot measure approved last year that promised to accelerate the appeals process for condemned inmates.
“Provisions of Proposition 66 that appear to impose strict deadlines on the resolution of judicial proceedings must be deemed directive rather than mandatory,” the court said.
The decision means state courts cannot be forced to hear an inmate’s automatic appeal within five years of a death sentence being imposed, though it left other elements of the initiative, such as expanding the roster of attorneys qualified to take on capital cases.
Opponents filed a legal challenge the day after it was approved by voters, claiming the time limit would strangle courts with death cases, and that the measure’s passage subverted the courts’ authority to operate separately from other branches of government.
Death penalty appeals can last ten years or more as they move through state courts, and even longer to resolve through separate appeals in the federal system.
The Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles said it viewed the ruling as a victory for death penalty reform.
"The court recognized that Californians not only voted to keep the death penalty, but also to reform the appellate court system and ensure the death penalty is carried out in a timely manner," ADDA president Michele Hanisee said in a statement.
No executions are imminent -- as courts are still considering a separate legal challenge over whether California's lethal injection protocol is constitutional.