California Voters Decide Criminal Justice Initiatives

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November 7, 2012
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California voters sent mixed signals by narrowly defeating Proposition 34, the initiative to replace the death penalty with life in prisonment, while overwhelmingly approving Proposition 36, which reforms the state's harsh Three Strikes Law.

By a 47%-53% margin, voters chose to maintain the state's death penalty. But the initiative's proponents pointed out that the percentage of voters supporting capital punishment has dropped dramatically since 1978, when 71% of the electorate supported an initiative to reinstate the death penalty.

California has the largest and costliest death row in the United States. If Proposition 34 had passed, the death sentences of California’s 726 death row inmates would have been converted to a sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. Convicted killers would also have been required to work and pay restitution into a victims’ compensation fund.

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By a 69%-31% margin, voters passed Proposition 36, an initiative eliminating 25 years-to life sentences currently imposed on "third strike" offenders who have never been convicted of a crime like murder or rape, and whose third strike is for a non-violent, non-serious crime like petty theft or drug posession.

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