Editorial: ‘No’ on Prop 20, but some of its criminal justice law tweaks should be adopted – Desert Sun

Posted: October 19, 2020 at 3:57 am

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The Desert Sun Editorial Board Published 5:00 a.m. PT Oct. 17, 2020


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We suspect that Proposition 20 on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot has sown as much voter division as the three criminal justice measures AB 109, Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 it seeks to modify.

After a lengthy and robust debate, our divided seven-member Editorial Board settled on a no vote recommendation, though the thumbs down is by no means a blanket disapproval of the thoughts behind the measure.

Some background:

Proposition 20 seeks to amend AB 109, Proposition 47 and Proposition 57 in ways its supporters, led by law enforcement officials, argue will rein in criminal justice reforms that have gone far beyond what the public ever intended.

Specifically, the initiative:

Its not surprising, in a way, that this array of ideas came to become a ballot measure. It targets what quickly became controversial areas of the three subject laws. After all, the impetus for the Legislature-enacted AB 109 prison realignment measure and subsequent voter-approved Propositions 47 and 57 was the goal of reducing inmate numbers in Californias then-grossly overcrowded prisons.

A guard tower and razor wire are seen at California State Prison Solano in Vacaville.(Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The measures did what their authors intended, which was drastically and quickly reduce inmate counts. Anecdotally, it also quickly became apparent that changes in crime classifications such as Proposition 47s reduction to misdemeanor status of nearly all drug possession offenses and virtually all petty theft, larceny or shoplifting offenses with a value under $950 did have an effect on the public.

Law enforcement officials, including then-Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, argued before Proposition 47 passed that its reductions in treatment of offenses as felonies combined with the moves to release inmates resentenced under more lax misdemeanor guidelines would result in more crime by criminals quickly testing the new boundaries. AB 109s shift of legions of many previously state corrections system-handled offenders to county lockups and AB 57s changes that eased conditions for some felons to be granted earlier-release parole were similarly painted as destined to send too many offenders who should be kept in prison dangerously back to the streets.

What really has occurred in the years since these measures were approved is still unclear. Proposition 47 which has perhaps drawn the most criticism has had no real negative effect when it comes to crime rates, according to University of California-Irvine researchers. A Public Policy Institute of California study, however, said that while overall crime rates seem to be tracking those of the nation and the overall low-crime trends of the 1960s, lower-level crimes, especially thefts from vehicles, did spike by about 9.5% following Proposition 47s implementation.

While some would argue that a crime such as a vehicle break-in is not worth putting a person into the system, such up-to-$950 violations of ones personal space and property are hardly victimless.

COLUMN:COVID-19 blew up our endorsement process

Our Editorial Board was most divided, however, by the initiatives addition of expanded DNA testing that would snare some accused of misdemeanors and require their most-personal data their genetic coding be collected and added to the state and federal criminal databases.

We accept that many believe those who intend to follow the straight-and-narrow should have nothing to fear from having their DNA collected. Wed be interested to see how many would be so happy to have their own DNA gathered and stored in such a way, in line with that nothing to fear attitude.In any case, a majority of our board is deeply troubled by the overall chipping away of privacy rights seen across society.

Californias current law, which allows for collection and placement into state and FBI databases DNA samples of those simply arrested (not convicted) on an alleged felony violation, seems a gross violation of basic human rights. Proposition 20s particular example despite it involving those convicted of misdemeanors for offenses such as prostitution involving a minor and domestic violence seems to only expand this violation of basic human rights.

Like all initiatives, voters have no line-item veto here. They cannot pick and choose which aspects they accept and which they reject. It is an up-or-down proposition. As such, we recommend a no vote on Proposition 20.

That said, it is the responsibility of our lawmakers to address faults within what has come before. Refinements that improve public safety must be made while better managing the state corrections population in a manner that ensures true justice.

Our direct message to the California Legislature: Change state law to reflect those parts of Proposition 20 that do make sense.

For starters, wed change some offenses back to wobbler status so prosecutors can better address the individual circumstances of each case and suspect. Also, revisit for parole purposes the violent crimes definition within state law to include serious offenses from the Proposition 20 list that voters likely never would have omitted, such as murder and attempted murder, rape and attempted rape and kidnapping.

Desert Sun Editorial Board Nov. 3, 2020,election endorsements

Propositions15, 19(Property taxes):No on both

Proposition 21(Rent control):No

Proposition 16 (Affirmative action):Yes

Proposition 17 (Parolee vote):No

Proposition 18 (Vote for 17-year-olds):No

Proposition 14 (Stem cell research bond):No

Proposition 22(App-based driver exemption):Yes

Proposition 23(Dialysis clinic mandates):No

Proposition 24 (Consumer privacy):No

Proposition 20 (Criminal justice): No

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Editorial: 'No' on Prop 20, but some of its criminal justice law tweaks should be adopted - Desert Sun

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