Three controversial initiatives dealing with the criminal justice system will be on the California ballot on Nov. 8.
Proponents of Proposition 57, including Gov. Jerry Brown, say it will increase parole and good-behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and allow judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. About 25,000 state felons classified as nonviolent could seek early release and parole if the measure is passed.
Proposition 62, which is supported by the California Democratic Party and opposed by the California Republican Party, would repeal the death penalty and make life without the possibility of parole the maximum punishment for murder. Proponents say the reduction in state and county costs related to murder trials, legal challenges to death sentences, and prisons would be around $150 million annually.
Proposition 66, which is supported by the California Republican Party and opposed by the California Democratic Party, would retain the death penalty and change procedures governing state court appeals and petitions that challenge death penalty convictions and sentences in order to speed up the process, which often takes decades.
If both death-penalty measures pass, the one with the most “yes” votes would go into effect. In 2012, California voters rejected an initiative to ban capital punishment.
Among those speaking out against Propositions 57 and 62 and in favor of Proposition 66 is Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), representing over 8,600 law-enforcement professionals in Los Angeles County. He is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he has served for 27 years.
Speaking at an Oct. 25 press conference in San Dimas organized by the PPOA and Palm Springs Police Officers Association, Moriguchi said, “Both [organizations]have lost members who were brutally murdered this month. If we don’t speak up now about some of the propositions that are in the upcoming election, there will be more police officers murdered and more crime on the streets of Los Angeles.”
He was joined by, among others, Joe Cook, president of the Palm Springs POA; Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten; and family members of Officers Jose “Gil” Vega and Lesley Zerebny, who were shot to death on Oct. 8 while responding to a domestic disturbance call.
“We are here in the hopes that the public will listen to their pleas to vote against the release of violent criminals … and to preserve the death penalty for the worst of the worst, including cop killers,” Moriguchi said. “… They need to make a decision on who they support. If they support the criminals, then go ahead and vote for 57. If you support public safety, if you support the police officers who sacrificed their lives, you need to vote against 57 and vote for Prop 66.”
Brown has said that Prop 57 would improve public safety by providing “incentives for inmates to improve themselves, to refrain from gang activity, using narcotics, otherwise misbehaving” and “give them the reward of turning their life around.”
Accusing the governor of lying to the voters, Moriguchi said, “He has a lot to gain. He needs to clear out the people in his prisons by a court order [due to overcrowding]and that is what he is doing. But he knows he can’t get the voters to vote in favor of letting criminals out on the street, so he has masked this proposition as some public safety effort. It has nothing to do with public safety; it’s simply about putting criminals out on the street and out of his prisons.”
Moriguchi added that Brown should have explored other options. “We have mentally ill people out on the street with no help whatsoever. We have addicted drug users who aren’t going to rehab … His focus should have been on helping those people acclimate back into society and choose a different path in their lives. He’s done none of that … It just dumps them on the street, where they go about doing what they were doing in the past …
“I’d be glad to sit down with him and come up with solutions on how to fix the system, but putting criminals on the street to victimize people, to rape and to murder, is not a solution.”
Opponents say that under Prop 57, Philip Garrido, who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard and held her captive for 18 years, would be eligible for a parole hearing in 17 years despite being sentenced to 431 years in prison. Proponents say that sex offenders would not be eligible.
The pro-57 ballot argument states, “Without a common-sense, long-term solution, we will continue to waste billions and risk a court-ordered release of dangerous prisoners. This is an unacceptable outcome that puts Californians in danger.”
Moriguchi said the killings of Vega and Zerebny in Palm Springs and of Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen in Lancaster on Oct. 5 were carried out by parolees.
Moriguchi also spoke against Prop 57 at an Oct. 20 press conference with Sheriff Jim McDonnell, District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and other local officials.
In a Facebook post, Moriguchi said, “I am a civil rights activist as well as a police officer. I have worked hard with others to get hate-crime laws that protect victims of hate crimes. California’s Prop 57 does away with all the hate-crime efforts and progress we have achieved over decades.
“If Prop 57 passes, the hate-crime enhancements will have no effect since Prop 57 prohibits any enhanced punishments from being considered during parole hearings. Those convicted for burning down churches and synagogues in hatred will be released. Crimes against women such as rape of an unconscious person will have no punishment. ADW [assault with a deadly weapon]against any protected class will be eligible for early release if Prop 57 passes.
“Prop 57 also eliminates all the crime-victim protections, like Marcy’s Law, and leaves the decision to release hardened criminals in the hands of the parole board (the same board that wanted to release Charlie Manson’s followers). Please educate yourselves on this misleading proposition … Don’t let Gov. Brown’s attempt to clear out his prisons destroy decades of hard work to protect victims.”
Moriguchi has served as president of the San Fernando Valley JACL, chair of the JACL Pacific Southwest District Civil Rights Caucus, a hate-crime instructor and chair of Network Against Hate Crimes, and a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ California Advisory Committee.