SAN FRANCISCO, DEC. 24 -- The state Supreme Court today struck down part of an anti-crime initiative that would have stripped California defendants of any rights not provided in the U.S. Constitution.
The court upheld most of Proposition 115, the so-called "Speedy Trial" initiative, but struck down its broadest provision, a repeal of independent state constitutional rights for criminal defendants.
The court ruled unanimously that the constitutional provision was such a fundamental change that it amounted to a "revision" of the state Constitution, which cannot be done by initiative.
The provision would have required California courts to follow U.S. Supreme Court rulings in applying a long list of constitutional rights, rather than more liberal rulings based on the state constitution.
But the court voted 6 to 1 to uphold the rest of the measure, which was passed by voters in June and contained numerous provisions aimed at shortening trial and pretrial proceedings.
They included measures to reduce the length of preliminary hearings, which can stretch for months and even years in California; eliminating preliminary hearings after a grand jury indictment; requiring judges rather than lawyers to question jurors, and requiring defense lawyers to be prepared for trial in 60 days.
The measure also expands the death penalty, allows 16-year-olds convicted of capital murder to be sentenced to life without parole, and establishes penalties for a newly defined crime of torture.
In the opinion, by Chief Justice Malcolm Lucas, the court rejected the provision that would have required state courts to follow U.S. Supreme Court rulings in such areas as equal protection, due process, assistance of counsel, speedy trial, unreasonable searches, privacy, self-incrimination, double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment.
California courts have interpreted many of those rights more broadly than federal courts.
For example, state courts have construed privacy rights to limit police surveillance and have ruled some non-capital sentences to be cruel and unusual punishment.
In finding the proposed change to be a constitutional revision rather than an amendment -- the first such ruling since 1948 -- the court noted Proposition 115 would have stripped state courts of the power to interpret fundamental defendants' rights.
The only justice to vote against the majority ruling, Stanley Mosk, argued that the whole initiative should be thrown out, saying its elements were so diverse that the measure violated the rule limiting initiatives to a single subject.