ACLU, EFF Challenge Human Trafficking Proposition in Court

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(AP and KQED) The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging California’s new voter-approved law to boost penalties for those convicted of human trafficking and increased monitoring of sex offenders.

Voters approved Proposition 35 on Tuesday with 81 percent of the vote.

In its lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the ACLU and the EFF argue that a provision of the measure restricts the First Amendment rights of registered sex offenders.

The initiative requires all registered sex offenders in California to provide the police with their email addresses, user names and Internet service providers. Continue reading

Poll: Death Penalty Repeal Gains Ground

The ballot measure to repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life without parole appears to be gaining ground, according to the latest Field Poll.

For the first time, supporters of Proposition 34 outnumber opponents, 45 percent to 38 percent.

But a fairly large portion, 17 percent, are undecided.

Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo says voters seem persuaded by the argument that the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison.

“Back in 1989, voters by a 2-1 margin felt that it was cheaper to implement the death penalty than to house somebody in prison for life,” he said. “Now, more voters — by a 5-3 margin — think its actually cheaper to house prisoners for life.”

The Field Poll shows support is strongest in the Bay Area.

More coverage on Proposition 34 here.

Archive: KQED Public Radio’s ‘Forum’ Examines 10 State Propositions

Michael Krasny in studio

Through the studio glass: Michael Krasny hosts KQED's daily call-in show "Forum."

Here at KQED, we take elections pretty seriously. It’s a time when our mission of educating the public comes to a head — the messages coming from the campaigns are unrelenting and taken as a whole can present a confusing picture. So helping you cast an informed vote is our aim.

That was the philosophy behind our state proposition guide. Some people, however, prefer listening to reading. For those folks we present a complete archive of Forum’s 2012 state proposition shows. Some are an hour long, some are half an hour, but all present views from both sides and include community input we received via calls, emails, Facebook and Twitter. So sit back, turn up your speakers, and take a listen…


Prop. 30: Gov. Brown’s Tax Increase for Education, Public Safety

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Does The Death Penalty Provide ‘Closure’ to Victim’s Families? Three Perspectives

This coming election Californians will decide on Proposition 34, which would outlaw the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. It would also direct $30 million a year for three years to investigate unsolved rape and murder cases.

San Quentin Prison has housed California's only death row for male inmates since 1937. (Michael Glogowski-Walldorf: Flickr)

San Quentin Prison has housed California's only death row for male inmates since 1937. (Michael Glogowski-Walldorf: Flickr)

The measure is the latest chapter in a seesaw legal and political dispute over capital punishment that stretches back 50 years in California.

But setting aside the main argument of the “Yes on 34” camp, that the billions of dollars spent on the death penalty could better be used to solve crimes; and “No on 34” backers, that the death penalty process could be made more efficient and cheaper, there’s another issue that often comes up in the overall debate.

Many supporters of the death penalty say it is the only fair societal consequence for the perpetrators of the most heinous crimes, and that it gives victims’ families a sense of closure. Scott Shafer has been following this question around the death penalty for more than a dozen years, and he frequently addresses the question of closure in his reporting. Continue reading

Prop. 36: No Life Sentence for ‘3rd Strike’ if Nonviolent

By Michael Montgomery

This story was co-reported by Monica Lam in collaboration with the Center for Investigative Reporting 

(Monica Lam: CIR)

Members of a San Quentin self-help group for three-strikers meet with reporter Michael Montgomery. Most say they are here for non-violent crimes. (Monica Lam: CIR)

Some 26 states have passed “three strikes” laws, which impose long prison terms for repeat offenders. But only in California can prosecutors seek a life sentence, even if the third strike is for a relatively minor felony, like drug possession. That could change, if voters approve Proposition 36 on the ballot this November.

In 1997 Norman Williams was sent to state prison for a 25-to-life sentence. His crime: stealing a jack from a tow truck in Long Beach. Because Williams had two previous burglary convictions, he was swept up by California’s three strikes law. Williams was sent to a maximum-security lockup alongside murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

“I never wanted to do my whole life in prison. Nobody wants to be caged like that,” says Williams.

“We want to remove the worst offenders from society for the sake of our communities, and we want to do it no matter what it costs.”

But thanks to the help of an attorney and some Stanford Law School students, Williams got out. On a recent day, I met him in front of a halfway house in San Jose, where he directs cleaning crews for a program that provides work for ex-offenders. Williams says cleaning, especially floors, is the only thing he learned while locked up. Continue reading

Cooley, Gascon Make Their Case For, Against the Death Penalty

Lethal injection table at San Quentin's execution chamber. (Scott Shafer: KQED)

Lethal injection table at San Quentin's execution chamber. (Scott Shafer: KQED)

If voters approve Proposition 34 this November, it would mark the end of capital punishment in California. It would also mean that some notorious killers such as the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, and Richard Allen Davis, the killer of 12-year-old Polly Klaas,  would see their sentences converted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The California Report’s Scott Shafer recently sat down with two prominent district attorneys on opposite sides of the issue: San Francisco’s George Gascon and Steve Cooley from Los Angeles.

Here is an edited transcript of Shafer’s conversation with the two law enforcement officials, starting with Steve Cooley discussing his view that execution is an appropriate sentence for the people on death row:

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley: There are some offenses that demand the ultimate sentence. We’ve got individuals down in Los Angeles — for example, the Grim Sleeper case which is pending — this gentleman killed 23 young women, in the most cruel, inhumane way. Life without possibility of parole is not the appropriate sentence for somebody who slaughters so many of his fellow citizens. Cop killers, baby killers, serial killers — they deserve the death penalty. In my county, we only seek the death penalty in 11 percent of the special-circumstance cases, and they are well-selected and well-deserving of the death penalty. Continue reading

Poll: Overwhelming Opposition From GOP Voters Puts Death Penalty Repeal in Doubt

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

by Scott Shafer, Lisa Aliferis, Jon Brooks

A new Field Poll finds voters closely divided on Proposition 34, the measure that would end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison.

Supporters of Prop. 34 say California’s death penalty is broken and can’t be fixed. Besides, they add, all those legal appeals are wasting taxpayer dollars.

In the latest Field Poll [PDF] released Tuesday, 42 percent of likely voters agree with ending executions. But slightly more — 45 percent — say “no” — keep things just the way they are. Thirteen percent are undecided. The margin of error is 4.3 percent.

The poll showed a sharp divide among registered Democrats and Independents versus Republicans on the issue. Democrats support the measure 50-37 percent, and no-party-preference or other voters favor it 54-33. But opposition by Republicans is at a whopping 65-23 percent.

Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo said that support for replacing the death penalty with life in prison has been gaining ground in recent years.

“I think that gives the “Yes on 34″ side a chance,” he said. “But it’s starting off below 50 percent, and the history of our poll suggests that is an ominous place to start.” Continue reading

Fighting to Repeal Death Penalty Law He Wrote

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

Don Heller, author of Proposition 7, the 1978 law which expanded California's death penalty. (Photo: SAFE California)

For one of the items on this year’s ballot, you need to go back to 1978. In that year, California voters approved Proposition 7, which expanded the death penalty in California. This November Californians will vote on Proposition 34, which would end the death penalty and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Sacramento attorney Don Heller wrote Prop. 7 at the request of then-State Senator John Briggs.

“I wrote it with the intent of writing a perfect legal document. Which I did! It was well crafted. It met all the constitutional standards, and it’s never been overturned in any aspects by the U.S. Supreme Court.” Heller says.

“But I don’t believe capital punishment works. And if it doesn’t work, change it.”

Jerry Brown was governor at the time, and heinous crime sprees like the Manson killings and two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford were still fresh in voters’ minds. Heller remembers California as a western state with a taste for frontier justice. Proposition 7 got more than 71 percent of the vote.

“It was a culture of ‘hanging ’em high from the big oak tree,'” Heller recalls. “It was a western mentality of free thinkers and speedy punishment for criminal behavior.” Continue reading

Proposition 34: Should California Overturn the Death Penalty?

San Quentin's death penalty chamber. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

San Quentin's lethal injection room. (Photo: Scott Shafer, KQED)

The death penalty is on the ballot in California in November, in the form of Proposition 34.  While death penalty discussions usually involve the topic of morality, there is little of that in the proposition’s language. Instead, Prop. 34 focuses on money. Specifically, what would be saved by abolishing the death penalty — billions of dollars, according to Jeanne Woodford, executive director of Death Penalty Focus. She explained the number on KQED’s Forum this morning.

The figure [PDF] actually came from Justice Alarcon, who is the 9th circuit court judge,” she said, further explaining that Alarcon supports the death penalty and his then-law clerk Paula Mitchell, who co-wrote the analysis, does not. They studied the issues for five years, Woodford said. “They concluded that we have spent $4 billion on the death penalty since 1978, and if we continue with the death penalty we will spend up to another $7 billion on the death penalty by 2050.”

In addition, Woodford pointed to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office report which estimates savings of $130 million annually within a few years of passage of Proposition 34 — with the caveat that its estimate could vary by tens of millions of dollars. Continue reading

Death and Taxes: Heading to the November Ballot

It’s an old adage: Nothing is certain but death and taxes. And Gov. Jerry Brown revived it today as he made some remarks about measures making their way to the November ballot.

A measure that would abolish the death penalty in California and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole qualified for the ballot yesterday. Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified that the initiative petition had garnered the necessary half million valid signatures so California voters will get to weigh in on Nov. 6. One key backer is former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Jeanne Woodford. As warden at San Quentin Prison she oversaw several executions, but has become a vocal opponent of capital punishment. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has emerged as a strong voice against the ballot measure and in favor of the death penalty.

Brown wouldn’t take a stand on the ballot measure just now, but he vetoed death penalty legislation back in 1977, and today said it was a “good thing” Californians will get to vote on it this year.

Brown is also pushing his measure to raise taxes — sales taxes on all of us and income taxes on the wealthy — to generate more revenue for the state budget. The campaign to qualify that measure is in high gear, in a race to collect more than 800,000 signatures next month.

On death and taxes, Stephen Colbert gets the last word.