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Political Lies & Propositions 34/36

It’s pretty close to the day that we vote on a number of propositions for this year’s ballot. About a week ago, I wrote a post on Proposition 34, the initiative which will hopefully bring an end to the death penalty. Then, as now, I was spurred to the writing by reading the inimitable Jeff Gamso.

But today, I want to come at Proposition 34 from a different angle — and to include some discussion of Proposition 36, which would reform one of the most hideous pieces of legislation on California’s books. Proposition 36, for those who are unaware, deals with the so-called “Three Strikes” law, which was approved because, as they say, “hard cases make bad law.”

And now we have a chance to fix both the death penalty, and Three Strikes, as well as a few other things all in one election.

One of the difficulties facing California voters — in fact, facing voters throughout the United States in this election cycle — is that lying is in vogue.

I’m not talking about the kind of lying that politicians have always engaged in. I’m not talking about hyperbole, or bending the truth. I’m talking about outright, bald-faced, totally-made-up-and-absolutely-false kind of lying.

It’s the sort of thing that I suspect would have shamed even Richard Nixon.In fact, even the criminals targeted by these propositions would probably not be so bold as to so blatantly lie as do those opposing these propositions.

Take Proposition 34, for example. According to the impartial Legislative Analyst, writing in the Official Voter Information Guide about Prop 34:

In total, the measure would result in net savings to state and local governments related to murder trials, appellate litigation, and state corrections. These savings would likely be about $100 million annually in the first few years, growing to about $130 million annually thereafter. The actual amount of these annual savings could be higher or lower by tens of millions of dollars, depending on various factors including how the measure is implemented and the rate of death sentences and executions that would take place in the future if this measure were not approved by voters. In addition, the measure would require the state to provide a total of $100 million in grants to local law enforcement agencies over the next four years.

Yep. Prop 34 is expected, by a non-partisan analysis, to save hundreds of millions of dollars — possibly over a billion — over the next ten years.

The lie is contained within the same Voter Information Guide, which is supposed to help you decide how to vote, and is written by people who just can’t get enough of killing.

California is broke. Prop. 34 costs taxpayers $100 million over four years and many millions more, long term. Taxpayers would pay at least $50,000 annually, giving lifetime healthcare/housing to killers who tortured, raped, and murdered children, cops, mothers, and fathers. DA’s, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs say Vote No.

Apparently, “California is broke,” and so we need to do whatever we can to avoid saving that billion dollars I just told you about. Instead, we must continue to spend that billion dollars so that, occasionally, the bloodlust of victims will be satisfied by killing more people.

Because California is broke.

But it’s not just money that the proponents of killing people are lying to you about. They also lie to you about who they — we — California — about who gets killed if their plans succeed.

They’d like you to believe that you will be sponsoring the killing of torturers, rapists, who murdered children, mothers, fathers, and — the worst thing of all, because the others don’t matter as much — cops!

And, suddenly, I realize I’m preaching to the choir, because if you’re still reading, you don’t have the bloodlust that predisposes you to killing people anyway, so you’re probably already voting for Proposition 34.

At any rate, you — choir — can perhaps discuss this with some of your non-choir-member friends.

Because one of the things that’s important about eliminating the death penalty is not only will it save California an estimated billion dollars over the next ten years, it will save innocent lives.

How do I know that?

I can read. I know about the exonerations. Hundreds of them so far. Innocent people sentenced to death. If we’re going to jump to conclusions and run with our prejudices to lock up innocents, let’s at least stop trying to kill them. Even if you favor the death penalty for other murderers (i.e., other than yourself), you surely don’t really favor the death penalty for innocent people accidentally swept up in our “guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent” universe, do you?

Prop 36, dealing with the Three Strikes initiative, has the same factors favoring your “Yes” vote, but, again, you wouldn’t know that from reading the arguments of its opponents.

Again from the non-partisan Legislative Analysis:

This measure would have a number of fiscal impacts on the state’s correctional system. Most significantly, the measure would reduce state prison costs in two ways. First, fewer inmates would be incarcerated for life sentences under the three strikes law because of the measure’s provisions requiring that such sentences be applied only to third strikers whose current offense is serious or violent. This would reduce the sentences of some future felony offenders. Second, the resentencing of third strikers could result in many existing inmates receiving shorter prison terms. This would result in a reduction in the inmate population beginning in the near term.

The Analysis goes on to detail other savings, including reduced parole costs. Savings are estimated at $70,000,000 to $90,000,000 per year. Or just under another billion dollars over the next ten years.

Proposition 36, though, brings with it other added benefits, as well. It reduces the number of sham deals engendered by Three Strikes, and helps — helps — in rebuilding respect for our legal system.

The sham deals come about because, after all, most of us who work in the criminal “justice” system, even including judges and sometimes prosecutors, don’t really want to send someone away for life for stealing a candy bar. But once a two-striker has been charged, the ball is in motion, and only creativity is going to prevent that single CD, or 1.5 ounces of marijuana, from sending another Californian to prison for life. So we find ways around the existing law. The whole thing begins to look arbitrary and game-like.

And no, that shouldn’t happen, but (again) who really wants to imprison someone for life for a minor crime?

Mike Reynolds and his ilk would have you believe that,

Proposition 36 will release dangerous criminals from prison who were sentenced to life terms because of their long criminal history. The initiative is so flawed some of these felons will be released without any supervision!

Well…maybe. But just as often, that’s not true. Take one of the cases I’m defending right now — and it’s not really unique — where my client committed one crime for which he has been prosecuted so far in his life. That one crime, however, resulted in a plea agreement on two charges. At the time of the agreement, only one of the charges was a strike, but changes in the law mean that today — years later — both count as strikes. So my client, who was recently charged with a new crime, is looking at life in prison without a “long criminal history.”

And, as I said, it’s not at all unusual for a single crime to result in multiple strikes. If you look at the actual events in the average “Three Strikes” case, you’ll see that we just as often imprison people for life based on one prior event — in fact, anecdotally (i.e., based on my own law practice) that is more often the case. So “Three Strikes” very frequently turns out to be what most people might consider one strike.

Maybe you’re okay with that. Our sentencing schedule has become so draconian, and our refusal to try rehabilitation services is so pervasive, that once someone commits a single crime, their life is pretty much over. At least when it comes to being a productive member of society. Maybe you are part of that crowd that believes that’s fine. “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t do the crime,” even when “the time” turns out to be a life sentence of poverty, if not prison.

Me, I think sentences should make sense. They should be at least somewhat proportional to the crime. Frankly, if it were up to me, the Three Strikes law would be keyed to events and not specific code violations. If a person robs someone, that should be one strike. It should not become two, or three, or four strikes just because the prosecution can get creative with the charging document.

It’s time our overly-punitive and retributive tendencies were reined in a little.