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State death-penalty reform initiative pushed to 2016

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POSTED May 11, 2014 6:02 p.m.

SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A coalition of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and crime victims announced Friday that it will wait until November 2016 to place a death-penalty reform measure on the ballot.

Backers of the proposed initiative to speed up executions and save money said this delay gives them more time to raise money, build support and gather signatures.

The initiative would have limited appeals by prisoners facing the death penalty and removed them from special death-row housing. It would have also required death row prisoners to work in prisons to pay restitution to victims’ families. Former Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis announced in February they would push to reform a system crippled with waste and inefficiency.

More than 700 California prisoners are on death row, but the last execution was in 2006 because of lawsuits challenging the drugs used in lethal injections.

California voters upheld the state’s use of capital punishment in 2012 when Proposition 34, which would have to repealed the death penalty, failed by four percentage points.

“This is an issue about criminal justice and reforming the criminal justice system,” said Chris Orrock, a political consultant for Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings. “(Voters) already said we want the death penalty.

We just want reforms put in place.”

Critics say the latest initiative would lead to more delays by sparking new legal challenges.

“Worst of all, it will greatly increase the risk that California could execute an innocent person,” Ana Zamora of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said in a statement issued in February.

Controversies surrounding lethal injections have put a spotlight on the death penalty nationwide, as states struggle to obtain the drugs needed for executions and fight to keep their sources secret. A botched execution of an Oklahoma inmate with a new drug combination in April fueled questions about whether states could administer lethal injections meeting constitutional standards.

Orrock said the recent controversy did not factor into the decision to delay the vote on death-penalty reform because the initiative focuses on events leading up to an execution.

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