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September 30, 2012

Latest California polling shows (unsurprising?) split for two major sentencing initiatives

Lat-me-poll-three-strikesa1-20120929-gAs reported in this new Los Angeles Times article, there are new and notable poll numbers concerning the two big sentencing initiatives on the California ballot this fall.  The article is headlined " Californians back change on three strikes, but not on death penalty; Proposition 36 would ease the three-strikes sentencing law. Proposition 34 would replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole." Here are excerpts from the lengthy article discussing the latest numbers:

California voters support easing the state's tough three-strikes sentencing law by a margin of more than 3 to 1 but are reluctant to abolish the death penalty, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll. The poll results come as voters ponder a pair of ballot measures that, if approved, would make dramatic changes to the state's criminal justice system.

Support for an initiative that aims to replace capital punishment with life in prison without parole is trailing 38% to 51%, the poll found.  But that gap narrows to a statistical dead heat when voters learn that Proposition 34 also requires convicted killers to work while in prison, directs their earnings to their victims and earmarks $100 million for police to solve murders and rapes.

Despite voters' ambivalence over capital punishment, a ballot measure seeking to amend the three-strikes law is attracting strong support from a broad cross section, including conservatives. Proposition 36 takes aim at what critics of three strikes call its unfairest feature by changing the law so that offenders whose third strikes were relatively minor, such as shoplifting or drug possession, could no longer be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

"We've built this society on the idea that the penalty depends on the crime," said poll respondent Hamilton Cerna, 31, a registered Republican from Downey who works as an employee relations consultant. "If you're going to take away somebody's freedom, then I feel like it should be for a damn good reason."  The measure to soften the three-strikes law was backed by 66%, with only 20% opposed and 14% undecided or not answering. Both ballot initiatives need a simple majority to pass.

The USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll canvassed 1,504 registered voters from Sept. 17 to 23.  The survey was conducted jointly by the Democratic polling company Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and the Republican firm American Viewpoint.  The margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.

The propositions target two of California's most iconic and controversial tough-on-crime sentencing laws. The "Three Strikes and You're Out" law won overwhelming voter approval in 1994 amid heightened public anxiety over crime.  The law targets offenders who have previous convictions for at least two serious or violent crimes, such as rape or robbery. Any new felony conviction can trigger a prison sentence of at least 25 years to life. Of the state's nearly 8,900 third-strikers, about a third were convicted of drug or nonserious property crimes.

Proposition 36 would end life terms for such offenders, who would instead be treated as if they had only one previous strike and be sentenced to double the standard prison term for their latest crime.... Inmates already serving 25 years to life for nonserious and nonviolent offenses could get a reduction in their sentences if a judge decides they do not pose an unreasonable risk to the public. The proposition's changes would not apply to offenders with previous convictions for murder, rape or child molestation, or to those whose latest offense involved a sex crime, major drug dealing or use of a firearm....

More than half of voters who described themselves as conservative said they supported amending the three-strikes law, with just over a quarter opposing the measure, according to the poll.  "It's not fair to taxpayers. It's not fair to the offender," said Don Chapman of Anaheim, a registered Republican who used to oversee drivers and equipment for a distribution company before retiring.

Although the poll gives the initiative a large advantage, a 2004 attempt to amend the three-strikes law held a similar lead in polls until an advertising blitz by opponents in the final week of the campaign. That proposition lost 53% to 47%. The current measure is opposed by victims rights groups and more than a dozen law enforcement associations, including the California District Attorneys Assn. and the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers.

Opponents note that judges already have the authority to spare a third-striker the maximum sentence. They argue that the proposed amendment removes a powerful tool that has put away dangerous offenders before they could hurt more people.  Norman Tripp, a retired corrections officer and supervising prison counselor who participated in the survey, said he believes the initiative would result in more crime. "At what point does society say, 'I'm going to end this person preying on people'?" Tripp, of Susanville, asked.

Lat-me-poll-three-strikes-20120929-g

Proposition 34 offers Californians their first opportunity to decide whether the state should have the death penalty since two-thirds of voters amended the state Constitution to allow capital punishment in 1972. 

Only 13 inmates have been put to death in California since executions resumed and none since 2006.  California has more than 725 inmates on death row, the most in the nation, and they are more likely to die of old age, illness or suicide than by lethal injection.

The USC Dornsife/Times poll mirrors similar surveys finding that support for the death penalty has waned.  When voters were read the proposition language on the November ballot, 43% favored Proposition 34, with 45% against.  The margin of error for that result was 4.1%.

The escalating costs of the death penalty — an issue highlighted by the proposition's supporters — did not move respondents. After voters were told the state could save as much as $130 million annually by abolishing capital punishment, opponents of Proposition 34 still outnumbered supporters by the same margin — 46% to 44%. 

Pollsters said the overall results did not bode well for the measure and show that most voters already have firm opinions on the issue.  Susan Estabrook, 52, a teacher's aide who lives in Marysville and took part in the poll, said the cost had no bearing on her support for executions of murderers. "If someone commits that heinous of a crime, they just don't even need to be here," she said.

Some respondents who favored Proposition 34 said they were motivated as much by whether it was fairly carried out as by cost.  Kevin Calandri, 69, a retired college professor from Sacramento, said he intended to vote to abolish the death penalty because "the people who are more likely to be sentenced to death are poor minorities."

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Comments

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. 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/

Posted by: Chris Bernstien | Oct 1, 2012 12:37:34 PM

California is broke. Passage of both of these measures would make economic sense.

Posted by: Plex | Oct 3, 2012 2:48:12 PM

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