A Guide to California's Law Enforcement Propositions
The state’s death penalty, human trafficking penalties and three strikes are all on the ballot.
San Diego may have been the site of the first executions in California way back in 1778, although history is a bit fuzzy on whether four Indians who rebelled against their Catholic overlords were actually put to death.
What is clear: San Diego County has contributed significantly to the machinery of public death since the 18th century. Dozens of our residents have been hanged, gassed, shot or injected with deadly chemicals.
More than 700 executions have taken place in California, including 13 since they restarted after various court battles prevented executions from 1967-1992. But Proposition 34, a new measure on the November ballot, would end the death penalty in the Golden State.
It’s one of three crime-related propositions on the ballot. Proposition 35 boosts penalties for human trafficking, and Proposition 36 revises the state’s “Three Strikes” law requiring lifetime prison sentences for certain convicts.
Here’s a quick look at the three propositions.
Prop. 34: Eliminate the Death Penalty
What Does It Do? Prop. 34 eliminates the death penalty — it would make California the 18th state to not execute prisoners — and converts the sentences of 725 current Death Row inmates to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
What Would It Cost? The state estimates eliminating the death penalty would save tens of millions each year.
Who’s Behind It? The former warden of San Quentin Prison, where executions take place; former prosecutor Don Heller, who pushed to reinstate executions in 1978; former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti.
They say the measure will save money and eliminate the possibility an innocent person will be executed.
Who’s Opposed? Former Gov. Pete Wilson; many prosecutors and law enforcement organizations and well-known victim advocate Marc Klass.
Foes argue that the execution process can be repaired in order to legally and properly kill prisoners on Death Row, which “is made up of serial killers, cop killers and killers who rape and murder women and children,” according to waitingforjustice.net, an anti-Prop. 34 website.
Opponents question the cost of keeping condemned inmates alive for their natural lives instead of killing them. There is plenty of debate over the issue of cost: A study updated this year says California’s death penalty system cost $4 billion since 1978 over what it would have cost to house the prisoners for life.
San Diego Connections: District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, State Sens. Joel Anderson and Mark Wyland and Assemblymembers Martin Garrick, Diane Harkey, Kevin Jeffries and Brian Jones are opposed, as is the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego.
From our archives: In 2009, we profiled the California Innocent Project, a San Diego-based organization that pushes to exonerate innocent prisoners.
I wrote a history flashback story about how the death penalty returned to California in 1992. It recounts the “dramatic last-minute legal smackdown over the execution of one of San Diego’s most notorious murderers.”
I also wrote about how Death Row inmates from San Diego County, including some well-known killers, were posting personal ads on the Internet.
A couple years ago, our Scott Lewis wondered whether an infamous local double murderer wanted the death penalty so he’d be protected from other prisoners while serving time.
Prop. 35: Strengthen Human Trafficking Penalties
What Does It Do? The measure increases penalties for people convicted of human trafficking and requires them to register as sex offenders.
What Would It Cost? The state estimates the cost may be a few million dollars a year for extra enforcement.
Who Supports It? A long list of Democratic elected officials, including both U.S. senators, the lieutenant governor and several members of Congress; some Republican elected leaders; the California Democratic Party and California Republican Party. Californians Against Slavery, a group pushing for the measure, says the state’s current laws on human trafficking are too weak.
Who’s Opposed? A sex-worker advocacy group called the Erotic Service Provider Legal, Educational and Research Project says the measure “would increase the risks to trafficked people and wrongly expand the definition of trafficking to include many entirely consensual adult sexual activities.”
The Los Angeles Times wrote in an editorial: “Effectively targeting the problem requires carefully crafted and thoughtful laws that keep pace with the constantly changing practices in the shadowy world of human exploitation. Proposition 35 is not equal to the task.”
The Stand Against Global Exploitation, a Northern California group, rescinded its support and is now urging a no vote.
San Diego Connections: Supporters include the County Board of Supervisors, County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Pam Slater-Price (both Republicans), San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria (a Democrat) and the San Diego Police Officers Association.
Prop. 36: Revise Three Strikes Law
What Does It Do? The state’s three-strikes law — which mandates life sentences upon a third felony conviction — would be changed so life sentences would only be imposed when the third felony conviction is serious or violent.
Some prisoners currently serving life sentences could have their terms shortened.
What Would It Cost? The state estimates it would initially save $70 million in prison costs a year.
Who’s Behind It? As the Los Angeles Times points out, lots of “Republican law-and-order types” have endorsed the measure while many (but not all) of them oppose eliminating the death penalty.
Supporters include Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and the California Democratic Party.
Who’s Opposed? The California Police Chiefs Association, California State Sheriff’s Association and California District Attorneys Association.
Foes at savethreestrikes.com say the measure “not only provides the opportunity for a repeat offender to impact yet more victims, it also stops far fewer serious and violent criminals far later in their career.”
San Diego Connections: Supporters include the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council. The Deputy Sheriffs Association of San Diego County and San Diego Police Officers Association oppose it.
Neither Sheriff Bill Gore nor District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis would comment to KPBS about where they stand.
A member of a group called Families to Amend California’s Three Strikes told KPBS: “Bonnie Dumanis has actually personally taken me aside and said, ‘Frank, this law needs to be tweaked,’ but it’s politically not very comfortable for them to come out and say that publicly.”