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California Proposition Returns

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Initial California returns on the ballot propositions look good on the death penalty.  With 10.7% of precincts reporting, repeal Proposition 62 is failing 44.4% to 55.6% while "fix it" Proposition 66 is winning 52.3% to 47.7%.  However, early returns are not always representative of the final result, so it's too soon to celebrate.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brown's Jailbreak Initiative is clearly winning.  The underfunded opposition was evidently unable to inform the people just how bad this ill-conceived measure is.

Update 9:50 PST:  With 21.7% reporting, the results are little changed.

Update 11:05 PST:  With 38.4% reporting --  62 Yes 45.3% to No 54.7% -- 66 Yes 51.5% to No 48.5%

Update Midnight PST:  With slightly over half the vote counted, Proposition 62 remains steadily 9% behind, and I think we can confidently say that the people of California have rejected the repeal and reaffirmed their support for the death penalty yet again.

Proposition 66 remains 3% ahead and is very likely to be the law tomorrow.  It has been many years in the making.

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A Prop. 66 Landslide?

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The Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State U. has this poll of 622 likely California voters surveyed October 7-13.

Proposition 66 would aim to speed up the death penalty court process in California. For example, it would require the superior court to review initial petitions, increase the number of available attorneys to accept those appeals, and allow condemned inmates to be housed at any state prison.

Do you plan to vote 'YES' to change these death penalty court procedures, or 'NO' to make no changes to existing procedures?

51%      Yes (1)
20         No (2)
29         Undecided/Don't Know (8)

Stockton Record Gets It Right

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Those of us who fight for justice in the worst murder cases have become accustomed to having the press almost entirely on the side of the murderers. I was pleasantly surprised this Sunday morning to read this in the Stockton Record:

Our editorial board was divided on these death penalty propositions. Our consensus is a no vote on Proposition 62 and yes on 66. We do not feel the death penalty should be abolished with so many on death row (whose sentences would be converted to life in prison). We do, however, concur that the process for legal challenges should not be so drawn out.
The Record also endorsed a "no" vote on Proposition 57, a trifecta of good sense in the criminal justice arena.

A Tragic and Ominous Story

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We are often told, by law professors among others, that community release with close monitoring is more humane than incarceration, less expensive, and equally effective.

It's simply false.  The question is not whether it can be counted upon to work.   The question is who pays the price when it doesn't.

This story gives us a glimpse of a thoroughly unfunny answer.  

Preventable violent crime against women, or against anyone, is a blight.  Q:  Where is the outrage over this, and who is going to take responsibility?  A:  Nowhere and no one.  And we all know it.

For a generation, we have known how to cut back on violent crime.  If we forget now, those least able to fight back will be the first to pay the price  --  although sooner or later, we all will.

We Abolished Parole for a Reason

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I was happy to have the opportunity a couple of days ago to speak at the Washington Post's Criminal Justice Summit.  The Post's editorial policies are worse than dubious, but its crime reporting is among the best in the country, led by the brilliant Tom Jackman, the moderator of my panel.

Today the Post carries a story about child cruelty and murder so horrible I feel as if I must warn readers that you need a strong stomach to get to the end.  For now, I will just say two things  First, the story shows why never permitting a jury to consider the death penalty is not merely foolish but morally grotesque.  Second, it shows why early release  --  which used to go by the name parole, before being abolished (in federal law) in the Eighties  -- should seldom if ever be given.

It's not that there are no instances in which it is warranted.  It's that the system cannot reliably distinguish the warranted from the unwarranted, and the costs of this inevitable error should be borne by felons, not by toddlers.
In a news release yesterday the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) announced that the recidivism rate for offenders released from state prison has declined steadily over the past five years and is now down to 44.6%.  Responding to these numbers CDCR Secretary Scott Kernan said, "The latest recidivism rate shows that we're helping more inmates learn how to live a law-abiding, productive life."  This statement is easily worthy of ten Pinocchios.  As the report notes the CDCR bases recidivism rates on how many criminals return to state prison for a new felony conviction or a parole violation within three years of their release.  Secretary Kernan must assume that everybody forgot that five years ago his boss (the Governor) signed AB109 (aka Public Safety Realignment)  into law.  Realignment prohibits prison sentences for virtually all property felonies, parole violations and even crimes like assault.  The most severe sentence a car thief, commercial burglar, or wife beater can receive under Realignment is time in county jail, and guess what?  As the state's inmate population had gone down, county jails have been filled to overflowing forcing the early release of thousands of habitual felons every week.  It may also be news to Secretary Kernan that crime has increased virtually everywhere in California, and not just property crimes.  FBI numbers released in January showed an increase in violent crime of 12.9% in the state's 67 largest cities last year.  A more recent report released by California Police Chiefs found that last year violent crime increased by 15.4% in cities with populations of less than 100,000.   
California Gov. Jerry Brown is doing violence to the parole system, says John Phillips of the OC Register.

Did you know that assault with a deadly weapon isn't a violent crime? How about injuring a police officer? Brutal child abuse or elder abuse? Or even killing someone?

If California Gov. Jerry Brown gets his way, I guess we will have to redefine the word "violent" in the dictionary, because thousands of people convicted of those crimes, which he calls "nonviolent," will be eligible for parole.

Brown is selling an initiative, which will likely be appearing on your November ballot, as a smart way of reducing the state's prison population by granting early release to these allegedly "nonviolent" offenders.

CJLF analyzed the initiative's verbiage, after which we estimated that, if passed, about 42,000 "nonviolent" inmates would become eligible for release.

Brown is once again "putting politics ahead of public safety" and "purposely pulling a bait-and-switch on voters to trick us into supporting something that will wreck" any remaining semblance of public safety that the state still has.  Let's hope the majority don't fall for it.

Last winter, California Governor Jerry Brown wanted to put on the ballot a new initiative to facilitate large-scale releases of felons from prison.  He had a problem, though, in that it was too late in the initiative cycle to begin an initiative from scratch and get it on the November 2016 ballot.

Gov. Brown's solution was to strike a deal with proponents of an unrelated juvenile justice initiative that had already gone through the early stages of the process.  Can he do that?  The bill allowing amendment of pending initiatives is only two years old, and there are unanswered questions.  Today the California Supreme Court answered one of the questions and cleared the way for the Jailbreak Initiative to be put on the ballot this fall.

The statute at issue, California Elections Code ยง 9002(b), requires that the amendments be "reasonably germane" to the original measure.  Does that phrase stretch far enough to take an initiative that is entirely about juvenile justice and graft on a measure that largely dismantles the determinate sentencing reforms of 40 years ago, which apply only to convictions in adult court?

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