Death penalty cases can be automatically appealed to the Supreme Court, but a mere civil litigant has to ask the supreme court — convince it, really — to review its case. The odds are terrible; only about 1 in 25 petitions for review succeeds.
Those odds may be going up a little after this year. For the 2014-2015 term, death penalty cases made up nearly 18% of the court’s workload (13 death penalty decisions out of 73 majority opinions). What if all those death penalty cases went away? Would the court be able to take on more cases?
It’s quite possible, according to an article by Ben Feuer and Ann-Rose Mathieson in he 2015 edition of California Litigation Review.* The 18% statistic belies the time actually spent on death penalty cases, say the authors, “given the generally lengthy records and briefing, along with couldn’t-be-higher stakes.”
What are the chances those death penalty cases will go away? Higher than they have been in a long time, it seems. This year’s ballots may see competing death penalty initiatives, note the authors. One would streamline the appeals process in death penalty cases, while the other would eliminate the death penalty. The latter initiative seems to have a real chance. According to the authors, a recent poll found support for the death penalty in California at its lowest point in 50 years.
*Published by the Litigation Section of the State Bar of California, and the source for the case statistics cited in this post.