With the baseball season now upon us, the song take me out to the ball game is particularly relevant when talking about criminal law and public safety. Unlike the song which states that three strikes and you’re out, the same does not hold true in criminal law sentencing. Proposition 36 when passed used a Draconian sentencing formula when dealing with “third strikers” in criminal law. The Proposition mandated a 25 years to life mandatory sentencing for those defendants who were up for a “third strike”. The courts were given no latitude in determining sentencing. Fortunately, the voters and the courts enacted Proposition 47 which modified proposition 36 to not use these sentencing methods when the alleged “third strike” was of a non-violent nature. The passage of proposition 47 reduced various felonies or wobblers (crimes that may or not be misdemeanors or felonies depending on the facts) and provides procedures for re-sentencing or re-designating prior offenses as misdemeanors.
The reduced offenses include shoplifting of less than $950, forgery of less than $950, insufficient funds check (INSF) of no more than $950, petty theft of not more than $950, simple drug possession. Is this working? The recidivism rates for these new offenses are substantially less than the national average. Is this an aberration? Only time will really tell. The national average recidivism rate is 40%. Thus far, California has a 2% recidivism rate! Does this bode well for criminal offenders and more importantly, the public in California?
The sentencing aspect of criminal law is evolving. A recent California Supreme Court case struck down residency limitations for sex offenders. The prior law did not allow sex offenders to live within certain distances from parks of school in San Diego County. The Court found that the application of this law impeded the rights of parolees. By not using the distance requirements, the court felt that there would be fewer re-offenders and public safety would be increased. The court felt that “high-risk offenders” would be evaluated on a case by case basis, but that a blanket prohibition application of a one size fits all approach would not be constitutional. However various counties and the state legislature and not wanting to apply this decision in their jurisdictions and are threatening to charge offenders with parole violations and the legislature is working to rework legislation to enact the spirit of “Jessica’s law”. Our society has evolved and is continuing to evolve in terms of what is acceptable or not. Society has changed its attitudes toward drunk driving, drug offenses, gay marriage, immigration reform to name a few. These changes have been spurred on by the groups connected with these issues (e.g. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
Is it patently obvious that more changes are coming. In light of this, how should society express itself? Should it be more tolerant, or, more prisons, longer sentences, more executions, or something else? What say you?