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September 27, 2012

"California’s Proposition 34 and Proposition 36 expose red meat in a blue state"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable commentary discussing the two big California sentencing inititative coming before voters this fall.  Here is how the piece gets started:

Don’t believe the cable-news chatter about California being some bastion of weak-tea liberal values. When it comes to our criminal-justice system — and its penchant for mandatory-sentencing guidelines, gang enhancements and the death penalty — the Golden State is as red meat as they come.  “It’s remarkably out of sync with the rest of the country,” contends University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law professor Michael Vitiello.

Which is why two initiatives on this November’s ballot are rustling some eyebrows.  The impressively funded, broadly supported Proposition 36 aims to modify a three-strikes law that voters overwhelmingly adopted way back in 1994.  Specifically, Prop. 36’s authors want to make sure that anyone going away for 25 years to life on a third-strike conviction is being prosecuted for a serious or violent offense rather than for stealing videotapes....

Proposition 34, meanwhile, is taking on the death penalty itself — not because it’s unethical for a government to execute its own citizens, but because it’s too damn expensive.  A study last year by former prosecutor and federal judge Arthur L. Alarcon says it cost California roughly $4 billion to snuff out 13 death-row inmates since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1978. Prop. 34 promises to save hundreds of millions of dollars a year, and put a chunk of that toward solving more murders and rapes.

Likewise, Prop. 36 makes its case on largely pragmatic grounds, with proponents dangling the juicy carrot of $70 million to $90 million in projected annual savings if the measure passes.

With two ballot initiatives that fly in the face of the accepted “tough on crime” paradigm, the question becomes whether California is experiencing something of a sea change when it comes to its counterintuitively hard-assed stance on crime and punishment.

The short answer is: nah.  “I see only a weak trend, not one that’s going over a cliff,” observed Vitiello, an expert on sentencing reform.

Relatedly, last week the legal newspaper The Recorder had this lengthy article on Prop. 36 under the headlined "Third Try at Shrinking the Strike Zone Likely to Succeed."

September 27, 2012 at 09:03 AM | Permalink

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"Don’t believe the cable-news chatter about California being some bastion of weak-tea liberal values."

I'll believe the election returns instead. In 2010, when a Republican tidal wave swept almost all the rest of the country, California when full-tilt Democrat, from Gov. Moonbeam to Barbara Boxer to the state AG. I'll also believe both the Obama and Romney campaigns, which understand that California is such a surefire "bastion...of liberal values" that neither side thinks Romney has a ghost of a chance. And I'll believe the Compassionate Use Act, which made California the first (of now a dozen or so) "medical" marijuana states.

"When it comes to our criminal-justice system — and its penchant for mandatory-sentencing guidelines, gang enhancements and the death penalty — the Golden State is as red meat as they come."

Does this guy have even a clue? First, neither California nor the feds have mandatory sentencing guidelines. Indeed, I don't think (although I'm not completely sure) that any state has them anymore.

As to gang enhancements: One would hope. Gang membership is one of the surest signs of potential, and typicall past, violence.

And as to the DP, California is hardly "as red meat as they come." Try Texas, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Arizona, and on and on. Indeed, California has had fewer post-Gregg executions than Indiana or mighty Delaware. "As red meat as they come" my foot.

“'It’s remarkably out of sync with the rest of the country,'” contends University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law professor Michael Vitiello."

More hogwash. It has the DP, as do two-thirds of the states and the feds. It also has a devil of a time implementing it, but that doesn't set it apart either. It has more delay than better organized states -- that part is true -- but long delays hardly put it "out of sync with the rest of the country."

As to the DP's being "too damn expensive," the author is indeed onto something. What he neglects to note is that there is no inherent reason it has to be so expensive, as Virginia and other states have shown.

How does this guy get to pass himself as an expert when he's dead wrong on easily researched facts?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 27, 2012 10:40:02 AM

'How does this guy get to pass himself as an expert when he's dead wrong on easily researched facts?'


the same way you do....

Posted by: Opinions | Sep 27, 2012 12:27:39 PM

What people outside of California need to understand is that there is a discrete reason for the gap between California's liberal values and its draconian sentencing laws: the CCPOA, the prison guards' union. This union's manipulation of the political system in California over the last twenty years has been nothing short of masterful (in the Machivellian sense).

As a result, Californian's have seen their public college and university system -- which was formerly the best in the nation, if not the world -- torn to tatters. Higher education spending in the California budget has quite literally been replaced by prison spending -- most of which goes to massive salaries and benefits (pretty much the best you will find enjoyed by any public or private employee these days) for prison guards.

For a detailed comparison of corrections spending versus higher education spending in California, "Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California," see: http://www.cacs.org/ca/article/44

Posted by: James | Sep 27, 2012 12:52:18 PM

Opinions --

If you care to dispute anything I asserted in my comment, I'm all ears. If not, just sticking your tongue out doesn't really move the ball.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 27, 2012 1:05:13 PM

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.

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.

Liberals are also trying 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. Remember Charles Manson, Sirhan Sirhan, 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/

Posted by: Chris Bernstien | Sep 27, 2012 2:10:14 PM

If I were truly cynical I'd suspect the government would want to abolish the DP so it can continue to say there was never anyone found factually innocent. But I've learned to love Big Brother while playing chess, so the thought would never cross my mind.

Death Row inmates oppose Prop. 34
Bob Egelko
Updated 11:01 p.m., Monday, September 24, 2012


Like other state prisoners, the 725 inmates on California's Death Row can't vote. But if they could, there's evidence that most of them would vote against a November ballot initiative to abolish the death penalty.

It's not that they want to die, attorney Robert Bryan said. They just want to hang on to the possibility of proving that they're innocent, or at least that they were wrongly convicted. That would require state funding for lawyers and investigators - funding that Proposition 34 would eliminate for many Death Row inmates after the first round of appeals.

http://californiacorrectionscrisis.blogspot.com/2012/09/death-row-inmates-oppose-prop-34-but.html

Posted by: Winston Smith | Sep 27, 2012 8:59:16 PM

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