This November, California voters will have the opportunity to make significant changes to the state’s penal law.
by Alex Landon / San Diego Free Press
Over the past 30 years there have been a number of propositions in California which have impacted the rights of those who wind up in the criminal justice system. The defense bar has attempted to get the public to understand why these propositions do not fight crime or make people safer.
We have been outspent by special interests who have benefited economically and politically by these propositions. It has also been difficult for us to get our message out in short sound bites that can be understood by those who vote. Whereas the proponents have been able to purchase ads and in just a few seconds spread misleading information or just plain lies in order to get fearful voters to support their propositions.
In 1982 Proposition 8, the so-called Victims Bill of Rights, became the first of a series of multi-issue propositions which made significant changes to the way we practice criminal law in California. Unfortunately the California Supreme Court in Brosnahan v. Eu, (1982) 31 Cal.3d 1, said that Prop.8 did not violate the single subject rule in the California Constitution, which was supposed to prevent confusing and misleading propositions from being passed into law.
Clearly Prop. 8 was both confusing and complex, and covered a number of subjects. I remember speaking to a group of Forensic Psychiatrists in San Diego after Prop. 8 passed and asking those who had voted for the proposition what impact it had on mental health defenses. Not one proponent was able to tell me what impact this proposition had on matters they would be asked to provide opinions on. Prop. 8 had changed the definition of insanity and changed the defense of diminished capacity to diminished actuality in California. You can imagine the lack of understanding most of those who voted for Prop. 8 had with respect to the substance of the proposition. It had an appealing title, and that seemed to carry the day. How could anyone vote against “victim’s rights”?
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