(AP) — The California Supreme Court has upheld a ballot measure narrowly approved by voters to change the state’s dysfunctional death penalty system and speed up executions.

The highly anticipated ruling Thursday concerned Proposition 66, a push to “mend not end” capital punishment in California. It aimed to expedite death sentences in part by setting a five-year deadline on court appeals.

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A divided state Supreme Court said the five-year deadline was advisory, not mandatory. Supporters of the measure had conceded as much during oral arguments.

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The measure beat a competing initiative on the November ballot that would have abolished the death penalty.

Condemned inmates in California currently languish for decades and are more likely to die of natural causes than from lethal injection. There are nearly 750 inmates on death row and only 13 have been executed since 1978 — the last in 2006.

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