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Election 2020

Vote ‘Yes’ on Prop. 20 Because a Violent Crime by Any Other Name is Still Violent

This is an independent opinion. Have one of your own? Write it! Email it to [email protected]

We've all heard the famous quote from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet — "What's in a name?" — which suggests that the name of things do not affect what they really are. But what happens when the thing in question is a crime, and the name given that crime could result in the early release of a criminal?

This is actually what's been happening in California since the passage of Proposition 57, where a long list of crimes that we all can agree are violent are currently classified as "non-violent" — including rape of an unconscious person, pimping a child for sex, domestic violence (yes, violence is in the name), assault with a deadly weapon, and beating a child so savagely it could result in coma or death. 

The consequence of this misclassification is that those convicted of these and other heinous crimes are eligible for early release from state prison. Since the passage of Proposition 57, thousands of felons have been released early according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations

When Californians voted on Proposition 57 in 2016, they were promised that it would apply only to "nonviolent" offenders, but that word does not mean what they thought it meant. Most of us think that nonviolent offenders have committed low-level crimes, like personal drug use, petty theft or getting drunk in public. California voters are shocked to discover that human trafficking and domestic violence are on this list.

As a victim's advocate, who works directly with victims of these and other horrific crimes, I can't express to you how dangerous and damaging this current classification is, and how vital it is to pass Proposition 20 to change it.

In fact, a Superior Court judge even ruled that Proposition 57 applies to inmates convicted of violent sex offenses, including those serving time for crimes against children. This is certainly not what those who voted for Proposition 57 intended.

Fortunately, Proposition 20 will fix this — as well as three other specific flaws in Proposition 47 and 57, and AB 109 that have led to increased serial theft, decreased access to DNA for solving serious crimes, and reduced accountability for repeat parole violators. 

Please note — Proposition 20 fixes very specific defects and is not a wholesale repeal of any of these previous reforms. In fact, the bulk of these reforms will remain untouched even if Prop. 20 passes — only targeted components of them will change in order to protect victims and correct errors, as specified here.

Proposition 20 will reclassify nearly two dozen crimes currently considered "nonviolent" as "violent." In addition to the crimes already mentioned above — like rape of an unconscious person and human trafficking — this list also includes elder abuse, exploding a bomb, hate crimes, assault on a peace officer, serial arson and some carefully selected others.

As a result, inmates convicted of these crimes would no longer be eligible for early release and would instead be required to serve their full sentences, giving them more time to hopefully turn their lives around by participating in counseling and rehabilitation. 

Let's be clear — this does not send one more person to prison or add any time to their original sentence. It does not cut funding for any programs or direct monies to build new prisons. It simply ensures that those convicted of these violent crimes serve the full sentence handed out to them by the court. 

Proposition 20 also tackles California's rising serial theft issue — which has cost Californians more than $10 billion according to the Department of Justice — by allowing the third theft conviction to be charged as a "wobbler" (either misdemeanor or low-level felony). So, if a person is convicted of stealing up to $950 worth of property two times, on the third conviction (of $250 or more) a felony charge can be used to either force them into a diversion program, or a stint in jail (prison is not an option under Proposition 20).

Proposition 20 also restores DNA collection from persons convicted of certain misdemeanors — theft and drug crimes, and domestic violence — which are proven "indicator" crimes for solving more violent crimes. Even former California Governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown explained back in 2010 that, "Collecting DNA at the time of arrest is cracking cold cases that might have gone unsolved forever. It is particularly significant that individuals arrested for non-violent crimes have been linked to the commission of violent crimes such as murder and rape."

At the same time, Proposition 20 does not affect existing legal safeguards that protect the privacy of individuals by allowing for the removal of their DNA if they are not charged with a crime, are acquitted or are found innocent. 

Finally, the initiative requires a mandatory hearing — to assess a parolee's current needs — for any parolee who violates his/her parole for the third time. The current system allows parolees to violate the terms of parole 7, 8, and even 9 times without ever having their terms re-evaluated. This was the case with the parolee who shot and killed Whittier Police Officer Kevin Boyer. The parolee had violated his parole at least 5 times prior to killing the officer. A mandatory hearing could have prevented this.

Under the common sense reforms of Proposition 20, victims and society receive justice, offenders are held accountable, and public safety is preserved. Proposition 20 is a win-win-win, and we urge you to vote "yes" on Nov. 3.

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About the Author

Patricia Wenskunas

Patricia Wenskunas is the Founder/CEO of Crime Survivors Inc. and has gained national renown for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the victims of violent crime.

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