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Three strikes, death penalty debated

Marc Klaas points his finger like a gun Sunday as he outlines his opposition to Proposition 36 during a forum in Santa Rosa.

By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Conflicting ideas about justice and public safety, underlined by economic considerations, emerged in a public forum Sunday on two state ballot measures that would abolish the death penalty and amend the three strikes law.
“If it’s not broken, you don’t fix it,” child safety advocate Marc Klaas said, asserting that California’s three strikes law has “worked superbly” since voters approved it in 1994, a year after his daughter, Polly, was abducted from her Petaluma home and murdered by a repeat offender.
“You have half the chance of being the victim of a violent crime than we did in 1994,” Klaas told about 150 people attending a forum called “Changing Criminal Justice in California” at Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa.
Richard Allen Davis had been sentenced to more than 200 years in prison before he killed Polly, her father said, but knew he would be released in a few years in each case.
“He wanted to avoid AIDS by getting a young one,” Klaas said in an impassioned presentation, wearing a button with 12-year-old Polly’s face on it.
Steve Fabian, a Santa Rosa criminal defense attorney and American Civil Liberties Union board member, said Proposition 36 on the Nov. 6 ballot is a “very limited fine-tuning” of three strikes.
It would require that a third strike, triggering a sentence of 25 years to life, must be for a serious or violent crime rather than any felony, as the law now stipulates.
Of the 8,873 third strikers currently imprisoned in California, more than half — 4,676 — were convicted for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession and shoplifting, Fabian said.
Three strikers account for 6.6 percent of the state’s 134,868 prison inmates, and Klaas said they are “absolutely and exactly where they need to be.”
“No rapists or murderers will benefit from Proposition 36,” Fabian said, noting that convicts would be eligible for re-sentencing only if their third strike was nonviolent; none of their prior convictions were for rape, murder or child molestation; and a judge determined they were not a threat to public safety.
The current law is unfair, costs too much and has not made California safer, Fabian said, citing the state Legislative Analyst’s estimated $70 million to $90 million annual savings from amending three strikes.
Violent crime rates had already peaked before the law was passed, Fabian said, attributing the decline to an aging population, not three strikes.
Sonoma County has 27 three-strikers in prison, he said.
District Attorney Jill Ravitch, who moderated the forum, said it is “rare if ever” that her office seeks a third strike penalty for a nonviolent offense.
Ravitch said she is not taking a public position on either Proposition 36 or Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty as the maximum punishment for murder and replace it with life imprisonment without parole.
Life sentences give society “every bit of protection” it could ask for without risking “the cost of executing innocent people,” said Lawrence Marshall, a Stanford University law professor who supports the ballot measure and was co-founder of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University.
“You are better off being guilty and rich than being innocent and poor,” he said, noting the prevalence of minorities on death row and in the criminal justice system overall.
Marshall also disputed the idea that capital punishment deters crime, saying that “people who do murders do it because they think they won’t get caught or they just don’t care.”
About 900 people have been sentenced to death in California since 1978, and 14 inmates have been executed — none since 2006. Eighty-three inmates have died prior to execution, and 75 have had their sentences reduced, leaving 726 on death row.
Kent Scheidegger, an attorney and legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, noted that Virginia executed Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad six years after his conviction.
“We could do that here,” Scheidegger said, asserting that every defendant should receive only one appeal and appeals should be terminated when no “claim of innocence” is raised.
The death penalty “costs more than it needs to,” he said, but the cost estimates fail to include the prosecutorial savings when capital murder cases are plea-bargained down to life without parole as well as the medical expenses involved in keeping people incarcerated for life.
The Legislative Analyst estimated a savings of $100 million to $130 a year from abolishing the death penalty.
“It really shouldn’t be about the money,” Scheidegger said. “We can afford justice, and we should continue to do so.”
Marshall said he has worked on death penalty cases in which exonerating evidence emerged 14 to 18 years after trial.
“They are us, they’re our children,” he said, referring to murderers. “We are a community.”





16 Responses to “Three strikes, death penalty debated”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    It makes sense to vote yes on both these propositions. The biggest, and you Christians who are prolife should know this, is that putting people to death is immoral in a civilized society, but more than that is the possibility that the person is actually innocent. I think Texas has put to death many innocent people.

    Second, both Props have cost this state billions and billions. It’s time that we reduced the prison population. I say put the death penalty inmates in with the regular populations. Make them share a cell with 3 other people. Make them fight it out on a daily basis. Sounds like worse punishment to me. As it is, they are protected. Lock them away and forget them.

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  2. Q213 says:

    Skeptical:

    Why are you hard on Ravitch? She did not have the benefit of a campaign advisor at the time the question was posed. How could she possibly know what “Buzz Words” people want to hear?

    Don’t forget she also used the word “transparency” during that same campaign. Good luck with that. She must have thought it meant disappear when confronted with tuff or uncomfortable situations.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

  3. Hoctuey says:

    No-one drinks until we hang someone.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  4. Skeptical says:

    What in the world? The District Attorney for Sonoma County wont take a public position on two propositions dealing with the three-strikes law and the death penalty? Why not? Doesn’t she understand the propositions? Doesn’t she know her own mind? Didn’t she talk about her experience and leadership during her campaign? If she has a view on what is best for public safety in Sonoma County she should clearly state her position when asked. Sounds like political cowardice to me.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  5. Robert says:

    Good luck with dismantling it. They seem to be expanding. Bummer.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  6. Snarky says:

    “Follower said, “My opposition to the Death Penalty is base solely on my personal experience with Government incompetence & corruption.Our Government can not be trusted with the power of life & death over it’s citizens PERIOD!

    I agree, Follower.

    The government steals OUR money, gives it to themselves in the form of criminally excessive “public pensions,” and then tells us they are broke…. even as they get caught with $54 million dollars in SECRET bank accounts (state parks).

    Government thugs cannot be trusted. They lie to us daily. They do their best to manipulate us. They pretend to be important. Everything they do is for them first… with the public merely the funding source.

    Its past time to begin dismantling this farce of local and state government. Start by voting “NO” on every sniveling increase in taxes that they demand from us.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  7. Snarky says:

    Does anyone else notice how hard the so called “justice system” employees, including judges and prosecutors, work to prevent the California general public from witnessing “justice” by way of cameras in the court room?

    The judges REFUSE to allow cameras in the court room….. and you seriously have to ask yourselves WHY?

    The problem with the death penalty, whether you are pro or con on the subject, would take on an entirely different understanding for you IF ONLY you were to witness the courts in their daily operation.

    But the “justice system” employees fear that. Ask yourself: what are they trying to hide?

    Its not a lack of funding… look at them building a brand new court house with all the bells & whistles.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  8. Steveguy says:

    The numbers game is so rampant in our Judicial system. It would take a tome 3 feet thick !

    The cost of this, the cost of that. Then you have the criminals, and some are truly criminal and should be separated from society.

    The blanket 3 strikes law does not serve the original purpose. Zero tolerance is evil.

    Yes, zero tolerance is evil, as you cast the first stone.

    The Judicial Industrial Complex is a very high cost to us. Then they turn addicts into criminals instead of someone in need. So they learn the criminal ways to survive. Meanwhile it costs like $50,000 a year for an inmate.

    If we don’t carry out the death penalty and it costs MILLIONS a year to not carry it out, Why the effort ?

    Make them grow their own food too ! The prison food system is an overlooked money pit.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  9. Follower says:

    My opposition to the Death Penalty is base solely on my personal experience with Government incompetence & corruption.
    Our Government can not be trusted with the power of life & death over it’s citizens PERIOD!
    I don’t know too many people who hold their elected officials in such high esteem that they would trust them with their very lives, but allowing them the power of Capital Punishment does exactly that.
    Just because you don’t commit crimes punishable by death doesn’t mean you’ll never be charged, tried & convicted.
    That’s a reality nobody seems to want to face.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 8

  10. Dumas says:

    What all the proponents of modifying 3 strikes ignore is the fact that they’re assuming that the perpetrator has been caught each time they committed a crime, and it is “unfair” that they be taken off the street for a third crime that is deemed to be not as severe as the first two. If you seriously believe that premise, you’re living in a dream world. Most of the perpetrators have committed other crimes, just as most drivers who receieve multiple DUIs don’t get stopped every time they drive under the influence. Shoplifters almost always say “This is the first time I’ve done this,” no matter how many times they have stolen and not been caught. Drunk drivers have never had more that 2 drinks, and will swear it’s also the first time, and all these poor criminals have to go to prison because they’ve only committed 3 felonies, and the last one wasn’t violent, just stupid. Poor misguided individuals, we should pity them, right? Well, if you believe that, call me, I’ve got a couple of bridges for sale, and some nice beach front property in Arizona!

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  11. Reality Check says:

    GAJ,

    California has become an archetypal decadent state. Virtually nothing gets done without buying the support of another interrelated special interest group. Since most voters seem comfortable with this arrangement, we will see how it plays out. So far, not so pretty.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

  12. Time for a Change says:

    What needs to be reformed and changed are the liberal judges and public defenders who allow the guilty to appeal, appeal and appeal. All at taxpayer expense and mostly for ridiculous reasons.

    California justice means justice delayed and victims angry at the injustice done to their family, loved ones and our society.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  13. J.R. Wirth says:

    It’s pretty easy to avoid the three strikes law if you already have two strikes. Don’t commit another felony, or for goodness sake move to Vegas.

    As far as the cost of keeping these criminals in prison, well it’s high, but lower than the cost of them being released and fathering bastard children by the dozen, who then grow up to be little felons themselves. This isn’t to mention the havoc they create outside of prison.

    Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  14. Snarky says:

    “You are better off being guilty and rich than being innocent and poor…”

    The BEST quote of the month. So true. Yet the employees of the so called “justice system” lack the courage to admit that. They pretend as if the “system” works just fine… because they get their pay checks from it regardless of how many innocent people are put in prison.

    There is something very basically wrong with people in government who seek their paychecks at all costs… even when they know innocent people are being jailed. DNA proves them wrong in their lies.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 6

  15. Snarky says:

    Can’t recall which US Supreme Court Justice recently uttered it, but one of them just said it in public and on the record:

    “THE DEATH PENALTY PROCESS IS BROKEN.”

    And in other criminal news involving the public employees who pretend to be so important, consider the following:
    ———————-

    “Oakland Port Official Probed For Strip Club Bill”

    The Associated Press
    Published: Monday, Oct. 15, 2012

    OAKLAND, Calif. — “”Port of Oakland officials say they plan to strengthen its expense policies after a high-ranking official is under investigation for spending thousands at a Houston strip club.”"
    ——————————

    Notice that its only AFTER one of the so called “officials” gets caught using public money for a strip club that the rest of them mutter they will “strengthen” the expense policies. That is YOUR money they are stealing, folks.

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  16. GAJ says:

    The three strikes law definitely needs to be amended as does the ridiculous money pit that is the Death Penalty in California, (even though I’m pro Death Penalty, it’s an expensive joke in CA that needs to go away).

    “The Legislative Analyst estimated a savings of $100 million to $130 a year from abolishing the death penalty.”

    But, as usual in California, things are never black and white, and “savings” are never savings because THIS is buried in the Proposition:

    “one-time state costs totaling $100 million for grants to local law enforcement agencies to be paid over the next four years.”

    So, Law Enforcement once again comes up to the feeding trough with their insatiable appetite for an ever growing piece of the budget pie. And if you think that this $100 million payoff to Law Enforcement will end after four years then you just don’t understand the power of Law Enforcement to arm twist malleable politicians.

    Disgusting how a measure to save money, and help reduce our deficit, can morph into yet another money grab by Public Safety.

    http://vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov/2012/general/pdf/34-title-summ-analysis.pdf

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