California Election Results 2012- Criminal Law Sentencing Initiatives

In Nov. 2012, California votes overwhelmingly approved an initiative to reduce the harshenss of the 3 Strikes Law. Under the newly-approved law, a crime can be Strike 3 (and result in a far longer sentence) only if it constitutes a “serious or violent crime.” The purpose is to prevent two strike offenders who shoplift or commit other non-violent offenses from being locked up for 25 years to life. The outcome of the vote is probably due to two main factors. First, voters are generally less concerned about crime than they were only a few years ago, when a very similar initiative was defeated. Second, voters are aware that the state spends a ton of money on incarceration, and the new law seems a good way to cut down on costs.

On the same ballot, an initiative to eliminate the death penalty was defeated by about 5 percentage points. This is a rather narrow margin of victory for death penalty proponents. A decade or so ago, they could have counted on about 70% support. The tea leaves seem easy to read– the death penalty is on its way out in California. WIth the availability of LWOP sentences- life with no possibility of parole- the death penalty is no longer the only guarantee that dangerous offenders will never be released back into society. Cost is also a factor. The cost of prosecuting capital cases and housing inmates on death row is immense, especially since most inmates sentenced to death remain on death row for decades and die before they are executed.