What cops need to know about California's criminal justice measures

This past Election Day there were several California propositions on the ballot that were criminal justice related


By Bob Walsh 

California has a very lively 100-plus year history of referendum and initiative direct democracy on the ballot. This has given us some very significant things, like Proposition 13 in 1978 which limited property tax increases to prevent people from being “taxed out” out their homes and “Three Strikes” in 1994 which dropped the hammer on career criminals.

Mike Reynolds, the man behind “Three Strikes,” originally went to the legislature with his proposal. His daughter was murdered by two career criminals. He was told to go home. He did and got the ball rolling on a ballot initiative. He was so successful the legislature eventually passed its own version of the law in an attempt to short-stop him. He continued anyway and got the initiative passed, making it much harder to diminish or alter its requirements.

The floor for getting issues on the California ballot is low, but not ridiculously so. For instance, there was an attempt made this year to get six anti-gun pieces of legislation put up for referendum. The signature gathering process fell short by about one-third of the signatures required.

This past Election Day there were several California propositions on the ballot that were criminal justice related. The most obvious of them concerned the death penalty. 

Proposition 62: Failed
Proposition 62, which didn't pass, would have banned the death penalty in California and replaced it with life imprisonment without parole. This would have impacted the nearly 800 individuals currently on death row.

Proposition 66: Passed
Proposition 66, which passed, intends to streamline the death penalty procedures to speed-up executions. Currently, all death penalty cases in California are automatically appealed to the State Supreme Court. The offender is not allowed to waive this appeal. To work on these appeals, lawyers must be specially certified and the pay isn’t particularly good. It takes many years for a case to make its way through the courts. In addition, there are always multiple attacks on the death penalty due to constitutional concerns over procedure. There are pending court orders over execution methods that have stalled any execution in the state for over ten years.

The impact of the failed repeal of the death penalty and the successful passage of the speed-up ballot initiative remains to be seen.

Proposition 63: Passed
Proposition 63, strongly advocated for by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, passed. It requires a special license to legally buy ammunition. Obtaining ammunition from out-of-state will be illegal for California residents. This creates heavy administrative requirements on retailers that would drive many ammunition sellers out of the business. In addition, Proposition 63 bans the personal possession of any ammunition magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, even those which had been purchased legally and legally possessed for years.

Proposition 64: Passed
Proposition 64, which passed, legalizes the personal recreational use of marijuana by adults in California. This has no effect on the federal law which still makes possession of marijuana illegal. This will also, in all probability, result in a modest decrease of the prison population. Some offenders previously sentenced may have those convictions expunged.

Proposition 57: Passed
Proposition 57, which also passed, allows a greater availability of early parole for persons designated as non-violent felons. The definition of non-violent only concerns the most recent offense for which a person has been convicted and not past convictions. In addition, the definition of what is and what is not a non-violent felony would surprise many people. For instance, resisting arrest that results in injury to the officer is considered a non-violent offense. Theft of a firearm with a value of under $1,000 is not even a felony in California. This proposition was presented for its potential cost savings and as pro-rehabilitation.           

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