California has in excess of five thousand (5,000) criminal statutes. One must indeed wonder why. Governor Brown has recently rejected adding to this plethora of statutes and noted that before “we go down the road, I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost effective.”
The Governor concluded that California needs a holistic sentencing commission to review the entirety of our criminal statutes to recommend needed changes (what to roll back, what to toughen up and to critique legislative proposals. Too often, criminal statutes are passed in the wake of tragedy. While the sentiment of the statutes may be a valid expression of outrage, the long term aspects of the statutes need to be reviewed. There is an entire crime bill industry that measures effectiveness by the number of infractions turned into misdemeanors and misdemeanors turned into felonies. This sentiment, coupled with the “junk fees” that are tacked onto criminal fines, are a major source of revenue for government. An easy example is a simple DUI conviction. The basic fine is $395 for a first time DUI. Various fees (payments into a probation fund, victims fund and various other costs increase this fine by 600%. Add to this, payment for the alcohol school, potential ignition interlock device and other fees and you can see the many hands that are out to capitalize on criminal convictions.
California has a backup plan to deal with criminal statutes if the legislature cannot, that is the initiative process. Voters last near passed Proposition 47 which directed the criminal justice system away from punishing drug use and petty crimes to the same extent as a violent crime. The initiative process is a laborious one and is subject to the same problems that special interests exercise over the legislative process, money controls the agenda. California is faced with competing interests and litigation to avoid jail overcrowding. Do we want to adopt the philosophy of lock the door and throw away the key, or do we want to take a more reasoned and humane look at crimes and sentences that are imposed for their violation? Should we use criminal defendants more for Cal-trans work to clean up the freeways and undertake to improve our communities? Should we turn a blind eye and ignore these people? How can we better use governmental resources to punish the wrong doers and safeguard the public? Do we really want to adhere to the writing at the US Supreme Court of equal justice under law, or do we want the system to be fluid depending on the defendant? Do we need to go to the root causes of criminal conduct in the first place? Is it lack of jobs, lack of education or something else? Our society has evolved and passed many great societal changes. Can we continue on this path or change it in some manner?
What say you?