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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.

California voters will be asked in two propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot whether to fundamentally change 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 judges and juries could impose. 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 redefine 'three strikes' law

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 he 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 [years] to life?"

Milan Moravec October 20, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Create California’s future. Vote No on Prop 30, 38, 32. Keep the California dream alive and well. Decisions you make on Nov 6 determine California’s course for years. We are kidding ourselves by believing that education funding shortfalls disappear with Prop 30, Prop 38. Prop 30, Prop 38 levy significant taxes on each one of us. The wounds that Prop 30, 38 are to heal have been self inflicted largely by our elected Sacramento politicians who simply do not say no to any influential interest group be they, University of California (29% increase in salaries last 6 years), public employees, business, teachers, or other unions or lobbyists. And now Prop 30, 38 are used by Sacramento politicians and lobbyists to blackmail us
EagleRockMom October 20, 2012 at 07:22 PM
@Milan Voting against Prop 30 will have dire consequences for our public schools. Massive teacher layoffs, increased class sizes, cuts to every program imaginable will be a reality if this doesn't pass. This prop does not levy increased taxes on the average wage earner, also known as the 99%. This prop assesses reasonable taxes on those who earn $250,000+ to help fund our state's public schools. VOTE YES FOR PROP 30!
Bob Peppermuller October 20, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Prop 34: the California Bar has succeeded in making a joke out of it. One has a better chance of dying crossing the street than on death row. For all intensive purposes they are serving life already. Prop 36. It is an attempt to make an adjustment to bring more fairness. I know the intent but then there is this from today's news (abridged). Makes you wonder. A 20-year-old man had already been arrested and released three times this year when police say he hit and killed a pedestrian in Canoga Park while driving a stolen car. Lopez has been arrested six times as an adult by Los Angeles police, according to LAPD records. Juvenile records are not public, so it's unclear whether he was ever arrested before turning 18.
susan shear October 20, 2012 at 09:10 PM
it's a crime, and a scam.
Karen Baxter October 21, 2012 at 12:52 AM
Since reinstatement of the death penalty in the U.S., 140 innocent men and women have been freed from death row. In California, hundreds of innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of serious crimes, three were sentenced to death. Vote Yes on 34 - end the death penalty in California - this is more than an issue of saving money - how about our souls, this is state sanctioned pre meditated murder.
irma glutz October 21, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Don't repeal the death penalty.. enforce it and get rid of all the years and years of bs appeals... few people are on death row that don't belong there.. end of story.. we're spending too much $$ mollycoddling these hardened criminals.. I can't even think about the crime we would have here without it . Let the liberals pay for all the years of dental work and liver transplants and heart bypasses that we are being charged for...
Milan Moravec October 21, 2012 at 04:27 AM
Some examples of how education funds from Prop 30, 38 will be used by the University of California. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000), Provost Breslauer ($306,000) pick pockets of in-state students, their parents clean. Birgeneau’s, Provost’s tuition increases ranked public Cal. the # 1 most expensive (during the greatest recession of modern times) for in-state students. B & B’s 14% annual tuition increases (2006 – 20012) illustrates an out of touch, self-serving Cal. senior management. Robert J Birgeneau and Provost forget they are public servants, stewards of the public money, not overseers of their own fiefdom. Let’s review how they used tax funding: Pay ex-politician $300,000 for several lectures; Recruit affluent foreign & affluent out of state students who displace qualified instate applicants; Spend millions (prominent East Coast university accomplishing same at 0 cost) for OE consultants to remove Chancellor, Provost created inefficiencies but prevent OE from examining Cal. senior management. Email opinion marsha.kelman@ucop.edu Calif. State Senators, Assembly Members (The author has 35 years’ management consulting, has taught at Cal. where he observed the culture & ways of senior management & yes was not fired)
nonoise October 21, 2012 at 02:45 PM
People suffer more from life in prision. Kill them and they are out of their misery. It is better to have criminals suffer by life in prision.
Michael H October 21, 2012 at 03:13 PM
i'm with you Irma. they have better med care then we do...and we pay for it. and now we are paying for sex changes??.. and aour gov Brown is a liar.
V.P.A. October 21, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I am with Karen Baxter here. Couldn't have put it better myself. We need to pause & think of what crimes our actions can lead to. Not even one innocent person should be have to die under the death penalty. That they have is good reason enough to repeal this penalty & vote Yes on proposition 34 How can you weigh a persons life in money? It is state-sanctioned murder the blood of which is a stain on all of us who go along with it. Vote Yes on 34, please.
Karen Baxter October 21, 2012 at 04:25 PM
i hope you all find it in your hearts and minds to move past your own auto response - murder whether by state mandate or by the hand of a criminal is wrong, we must own this first to move forward with a solution that serves us beyond the immediate and knee jerk answers, having advocated on behalf of individuals within the prison system and active with criminal justice reform - I am well aware of the flaws but that is not a reason to toss our own common sense and decency to the wind of illusionary justice and barbaric revenge which in the end robs us all.
Zuma Skipper October 21, 2012 at 05:03 PM
The average annual cost to incarcerate an inmate in the California Prison System is $47,000, most of which is for security and healthcare. Times that by our inmate population and you see part of the reason why our state is in the financial predicament it's in. This number doesn't include the millions that are spent on the appeals process for Death Row inmates. Stanley "Tookie" Williams' Death Row appeals process alone cost the California taxpayers $1M. The system is costly and flawed. The State Prison System and Legal Appeals Process needs to be reformed.
sila October 21, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I'm all for death for murderers and rapists and sociopaths. But there's soooooo many cases that weren't handled correctly, there's innocents on the inside that deserve a serious case review before they're put down. But if they really are evil, yeah, fry the fuckers!
Pat Brown October 21, 2012 at 06:59 PM
The idea that the death penalty deters murder is weak at best. It assumes the criminals are smart, it assumes that those murders are premeditate. Most murders are committed by people the victim knows, and are spur of the moment crimes. There were 1809 homicides in California, so clearly they weren't deterred. I understand the blood lust triggered by some horrific crime, but if you stop and think about it, a real life sentence could be a nightmare. Put them in solitary and they face a lifetime of hell. Never seeing another human face except their guards. Eat alone, sleep alone, exercise alone, long days where you have nothing but yourself to entertain you. If the death penalty remains then it needs to be seriously revamped. The way it is now it's a joke. Everyone knows it will take years, even decades to get through the endless appeals.
Shelley Marks Kramer October 21, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I do not understand how people who kill people are allowed to stay alive in the prisons that the publichas to pay for. A man who kills 37 people is allowed to live just baffles me. When we are low on funds for everything, police, fireman,schools, teachers, how can we expect to support a convicted murder to live in our prisons on our dime? The states who feel that the death penalty is barbaric I guess have never had anyoen in their family killed by a murder. An eye for an eye, my belief
Shelley Marks Kramer October 21, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Why keep murderer prisoners in solidary for the rest of their lives, on taxpayers dollars, just does not make any sense to me. What a waste of taxpayers money, food, space
Ben Gaffin October 21, 2012 at 08:02 PM
I wouldn't get rid of the death penalty, but I would be in favor of changing it. I would change the law to apply the death penalty in special circumstances. 1. Multiple homicides or serial killers. 2. A convicted killer serving life who commits another murder in jail of another inmate or a guard-what do they have to lose by doing this if there's no death penalty ? 3. A murder committed by more than one person (a conspiracy to commit murder in other words ), and only one of them gets caught. The death penalty can be used as a lever to get them to give up their friends and believe me if they're facing the death penalty, they'll talk. If you're worried about how much our screwed up criminal justice system is costing us the death penalty problem is NOTHING compared to how much money is wasted by our idiotic drug laws. Stop putting drug addicts in jail and we'll save billions !! .
shane October 21, 2012 at 10:35 PM
What a joke. We don't even have a death penalty. If we did, we would be putting this scum down. Prison is a joke, just like jail, and the offenders know it, and they work it, and they run it; especially the prison gangs. Wasted typing here though...waste of time. And the waste of time and money will continue.
nonoise October 21, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Criminals suffer more sitting in a cell than 6 feet under. Look at the worse punishment. Isn't the idea to make criminals suffer for their crimes?
Nina Zvaleko October 22, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Many good points. But a system that is geared towards true help for people, not punishment, would be more cost effective, and serve our society better. Productive people, not caged people. Meanwhile, yes, innocent people are put to death, families of victims face years of appeals, with no closure, the appeals, while legal, are very expensive. With the disproportionate number of poor and people of color on death row, I have to say no to the death penalty. As for murderers... lets talk about the wars...
shane October 22, 2012 at 01:21 AM
What world you live in? Prison life in Russia?
nonoise October 22, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Nina, good points and no easy answers.
frankruby October 22, 2012 at 05:47 AM
I believe in eye for a eye but vote yes! On 34 and 36. 34 will save this state alot of money lord knows we need it. And 36 come on dont believe you should get a life sentance for stealing pizza.. Thanks pete willson....
Milan Moravec October 22, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Einstein’s view of Prop. 30 Prop. 38 – “Spending more money doing what has been done in the past and hoping for a better outcome is insanity”. Have innovative, thoughtful, insightful, creative teachers faculty discover ways of increasing learning with significantly reduced resources $. No on 30, 38 and 32
Marcus November 05, 2012 at 08:24 PM
The last time we executed someone in California was in 2006. Let's face it, once you're on death row you are going to die of natural causes rather than be executed. Repeal of death penalty is needed.
Shelley Marks Kramer November 05, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I agree with irma. Why do we have to pay for criminals to be in jail on our dime YEs they should suffer if they have created horrendous crimes. If they kill someone or do harm to anyone, they should pay the price. We should not have to support people in prison who are deadbeats and will probably get released and go out and create more crime. Criminals are what they are, no good. Yes innocent people will get jail, but that is life, and if they have a good enough story to back up their innocence, so be it. I just cannot understand why we have to pay for criminals in jail, "for life", they get all the benefits even regular people cannot afford. Our criminal system is the "crime". Keep the death penalty, get rid of all the hardened criminals and save the public money that could be spent elsewhere.
Ben Gaffin November 06, 2012 at 01:11 AM
If someone is a co conspirator to murder what do they have to gain by giving up their friends if there's no death penalty ? They'll just get life either way. Faced with the death penalty, they'll give up their friends !! The only other possibility is to offer them a reduced sentence for talking. A reduced sentence for a murderer ? You decide. Serial killers would be another group I wouldn't lose any sleep over. When was the last time anyone's heard of someone wrongly convicted of 15 murders and then executed ? I am in favor of life without parole for murderers, but with the previously mentioned exceptions and a final one. If someone serving life for first degree murder commits another murder in prison (like another inmate of guard) they should face the death penalty. Otherwise they have nothing to lose by committing another murder. They're already serving life.
Marcus November 06, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Life without parole is all we need. The only time we could morally argue in favor of killing might be in self defense, either for ourselves or our families and indeed our country. The irony is that criminals on death row are against this Prop since they know that less legal resources would be available to them were they just handed L withour parole sentences.
Ben Gaffin November 06, 2012 at 03:58 AM
Marcus: If life without parole is all we need what would you do with serial killers ? And if they kill again once serving life what would you do with them ? Take away their TV privileges ? There needs to be a severe consequence for these offenders and having life in prison be the max sentence no matter what they do isn't moral at all. Compared to the total number of murderers, the percentage I'm talking about here is tiny. These people have proven by their actions that as long as they live, no one around them is safe. If you can come up with something besides executing them that would make people they interact with safe I'm all ears. Conspiracy to commit murder is another reason to at least keep the death penalty on the books. If three people conspire to kill someone, and you catch one, how do you get them to give up their pals ? If the max they can get is life, they won't. Again these are tiny percentages of killers I'm talking about here. For most of them life without parole is all we need. I'm just saying I think there are a few, but important exceptions.
Marcus November 06, 2012 at 06:18 AM
If someone is convicted and gets Life without Parole then thats fine by me. If they kill again while inside, then I'm sure, they'd be sentenced yet again to life. It all depends on what is life: 20, 25 or your actual life. As for your conspiracy issue? I have no idea how a criminal might think. But my guess is that they'd soon sing given the reality that they would be the only ones convicted if they didn't cooperate. Death penalty isn't really a deterrent. Murder continues regardless of the possibility of this sentencing.

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