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Voter Guide: Propositions 34 and 36

Proposition 34 would repeal the death penalty, while Proposition 36 would alter the state's Three Strikes Law. A quick look at the pros and cons

 

With votes on two propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot, California voters will have the chance to fundamentally alter how the state deals with its most dangerous criminals.

Proposition 34 would repeal the death penalty and make life imprisonment without the possibility of parole the harshest sentence officials could seek. Proposition 36 would change California's Three Strikes Law so perpetrators wouldn't receive life sentences if their third "strike" is a nonviolent or less serious crime.

Supporters say the measures would save the state more than $100 million each, while opponents say they would make the state less safe by removing a major deterrent and shortening prison sentences for repeat-offenders of serious crimes.

Proposition 34 would repeal death penalty

Proposition 34 would eliminate the death penalty, a program supporters of the ballot measure say is slow, inefficient and expensive. 

"Currently we have a death penalty system that costs us a ton of money and simply doesn’t work," said Steve Smith, a consultant for the Yes on Prop 34 campaign. "It's just another broken government program."

According to Smith, death penalty cases are more complicated and therefore more expensive. California's 726 death row inmates also receive special, expensive treatment once they're behind bars: Condemned inmates don't have cellmates, have constant access to the prison law library and receive lawyers for their lengthy appeal process. California has executed 13 death row inmates since resuming the punishment in 1978.

If Proposition 34 passes, some of the money saved by the state would go to a fund officials could dole out to local law enforcement agencies to help solve cold cases.

Smith said despite the costs and moral objections some have to capital punishment, there's another reason people support Proposition 34.

"I think the most commonly held view is the risk of executing an innocent person," he said. "As long as we have the death penalty there is a risk of executing an innocent person." 

Peter DeMarco, a spokesman for the No on Prop 34 campaign, countered that proponents of the ballot measure are making "misleading and inaccurate" claims.

He disagrees that the proposition would save the state money, and says there is no way to ensure the unsolved cases fund would be distributed fairly. 

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office says Proposition 34 would save the state money, but estimates of $130 million in annual savings "could be higher or lower by tens of millions of dollars."

DeMarco said the state should reform its capital punishment process instead, still allowing the condemned to appeal their cases but not sit on death row for decades.

"To suggest that it costs too much, so we should just abandon it, is, quite frankly, gutless," he said.

He added that the proposition would remove the highest-level deterrent available against violent crime, and pointed out law enforcement organizations—the California Coalition of Law Enforcement Agencies, the California Police Chiefs Association and others—that oppose the ballot measure.

"Those groups all represent thousands of rank and file law enforcement officers who are on the streets every day," DeMarco said. "They will tell you that the difference of having the death penalty be applicable in first degree murder cases does make a difference in whether a crime is committed." 

Proposition 36 would narrow third strike definition

Supporters of Proposition 36 say it would make California's Three Strikes Law match the original intent of the voters who enacted it in 1994—those who have two "strikes" against them but commit a nonserious or nonviolent crime won't receive a third.

In 1995, Jerry Dewayne Williams received a sentence of 25 years to life for his third strike—stealing a slice of pizza from kids in Redondo Beach. Although Williams' sentence was later reduced, it's the kind of case Dan Newman, a strategist for the Yes on Prop 36 campaign, likes to reference.

"We’ve gotta make smart decisions about using our law enforcement resources," Newman said. "Rapists and murderers get less prison time than nonviolent, three-strike offenders." 

Instead of a 25-years-to-life sentence, Proposition 36 would mandate a sentence of at least double the normal penalty for a two-strike offender who commits a nonserious, nonviolent crime.

"We think it would make California safer because you would have law enforcement resources to focus on violent and dangerous criminals," he said.

Newman said the measure is especially important now, with California's prisons bursting at the seams and its coffers running dry.

When Proposition 36 supporters mention the original intent of California's Three Strikes Law, they may as well be talking about Mike Reynolds.

Reynolds wrote the Three Strikes initiative after his 18-year-old daughter was shot and killed by a repeat offender during a purse-snatching in Fresno, and is leading the opposition to Proposition 36.

"It’s more than just a bad idea—it’s downright dangerous," Reynolds said.

He said Proposition 36 would tell two-strike criminals to keep offending as long as they stay away from the most heinous crimes.

"The best predictor of all human behavior is past behavior," he said. "It’s pretty clear that repeat offenders have demonstrated rather graphically through their prior convictions … what they’ve been doing. You can say with a high degree of predictability they will reoffend." 

He argued the current system works because the most notorious criminals—Al Capone, most notably—are sometimes locked up on smaller charges.

"It’s easier to get your kid into Stanford than get a repeat offender into prison," he said.

Reynolds said Proposition 36—which he guesses will pass because of the way it's worded on the ballot—will remove a major deterrent from the minds of repeat offenders.

"Why would they go out and do something stupid when they know they’re facing 25 to life?"

What do you think about repealing the death penalty or narrowing the definition of a third strike? Tell us in the comments.

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Chris Bernstien October 14, 2012 at 10:08 AM
No “accountability.” Max earnings for any inmate would amount to $383/year (assuming 100% of earnings went to victims), divided by number of qualifying victims. Hardly accounts for murdering a loved one. No “full enforcement” as 729 inmates do not receive penalty given them by jurors. Also, for the 34,000 inmates serving life sentences, there will be NO increased penalty for killing a guard or another inmate. They’re already serving a life sentence. Efforts are also being made to get rid of life sentences. (Human Rights Watch, Old Behind Bars, 2012.) This would lead to possible paroles for not only the 729 on death row, but the 34,000 others serving life sentences. On 9/30/12, Brown passed the first step, signing a bill to allow 309 inmates with life sentences for murder to be paroled after serving as little as 15 years. Life without parole is meaningless. Remember Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan. Convicted killers get out and kill again, such as Darryl Thomas Kemp, Kenneth Allen McDuff, and Bennie Demps. Arguments of innocence bogus. Can’t identify one innocent person executed in CA. Can’t identify one person on CA’s death row who has exhausted his appeals and has a plausible claim of innocence. See http://cadeathpenalty.webs.com/
Chris Bernstien October 14, 2012 at 10:08 AM
The 729 on death row murdered at least 1,279 people, with 230 children. 43 were police officers. 211 were raped, 319 were robbed, 66 were killed in execution style, and 47 were tortured. 11 murdered other inmates. The arguments in support of Pro. 34, the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty, are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and false. No “savings.” Alleged savings ignore increased life-time medical costs for aging inmates and require decreased security levels and housing 2-3 inmates per cell rather than one. Rather than spending 23 hours/day in their cell, inmates will be required to work. These changes will lead to increased violence for other inmates and guards and prove unworkable for these killers. Also, without the death penalty, the lack of incentive to plead the case to avoid the death penalty will lead to more trial and related costs and appeals.
Sharpie November 05, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Bring Dharma Brotherhood Buddhist meditation to every prison population in America. Seek to change inmates into better human beings. No one is served by initiations that keep people jailed in thoughts and behaviors that are anti-societal. Bring US prisons into the 21st century by truly changing prisoners into new citizens.
Sharpie November 05, 2012 at 08:26 PM
MUST read: "Support for Kill List and NDAA make Obama and Romney Unfit for Office" http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/reawakening-liberty/2012/nov/2/support-kill-list-and-ndaa-make-obama-and-romney-u/ Make a special note to watch the Free and Equal Election Debate between third party Presidential candidates, Gov. Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Dr. Jill Stein (Green) to be aired tonight on Monday evening, Nov. 5th from 9:00 - 10:30 pm Eastern Time. Perform a worthwhile civic duty, and be certain to listen in on this historic debate so that you can make an informed decision on voting day. Third party candidates who will be on the ballot in most states deserve to be heard. It is a violation of the 1st Amendament rights of third party candidates, and a violation of the free speech rights of every American, for their voices to be silenced. http://freeandequal.org/?v=1

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