Such is the case with Prop 57. It began with a call to end the right of the District Attorney to independently decide if a juvenile should be tried in an adult court because of the nature of the crime. Prop 57 provides that this decision must be made by a judicial officer. But then comes the “sleight of hand”, where proponents add a completely unrelated change to the adult criminal law system after the thirty-day period of public input expired. Now a yes on 57 no longer merely asks for a change in the filing of juvenile cases. Under the guise of “rehabilitation” and reducing prison costs, it turns violent crime into non-violent crime. How does this misleading alchemy occur? By pretending that the term “violent crime” as defined in Section 667.5 (c) of the California Penal Code, replaces the common sense understanding of what constitutes a violent crime. It’s a cynical deception.
Violence is defined more narrowly in the Penal Code with the specific purpose of restricting the crimes that will trigger California’s three strike sentencing scheme. But for the citizen, the meaning of what constitutes violence does not have those constraints. The sex trafficking of minors doesn’t magically become a non-violent crime merely because Prop 57 says it is. The Los Angeles County Sheriff established a separate Bureau for prosecuting such cases, an effort applauded internationally because such crimes are uniformly found to be heinous and destructive. The rape of an intoxicated victim would become another “non-violent” crime as defined under the proposed law. Should a rapist or sex-trafficker be given access to early parole because Prop 57 waves away the special heinousness of their acts? Is that really what voters intend to happen?
If passed, Prop 57 will join prop 47 as another measure claiming to further rehabilitation in order to lure voters into adopting changes that have and will prove damaging to public safety. Since the passage of Prop 47, there are thousands of repeat offenders of drug and theft crimes who are not being rehabilitated or treated. They are merely taking advantage of a poorly crafted law that gives up on any strategy of deterrence. Prop 47 decreed that someone can constantly steal and not suffer serious penalties as long as each theft was less than 950 dollars. As in the case of “violence” such thefts were decreed to be “petty”. To a minimum wage worker, 950 dollars is two weeks wages. For whom is this a “petty crime”?
Expecting the average citizen to read and understand 220 pages containing pro and con arguments and 100 pages of the actual texts of proposed law changes is unreasonable, and insults our intelligence. Even if one is acquainted with the subject matter, foreseeing beneficial and detrimental consequences of a particular law is always difficult to gauge. Legislatively passed laws allow for the measure to be considered again after assessing the law’s effects. Propositions do not. California law doesn’t provide for citizens to examine the impact of a proposition after a designated period of time for the purpose of modifying the law and determining in the future if it is worth adopting permanently, nor does it permit the Legislature to rewrite ballot initiatives to correct drafting errors, or even to cure constitutional infirmities sure to doom the measure when challenged in court. As a result, if the promised benefits of Prop 57 don’t emerge and recidivism doesn’t drop, money isn’t saved, and violence increases, the electorate will find it has been snookered into voting for a law that magically and permanently makes the attempted bombing of a school and a drive by shooting non-violent behavior.