Prop 34 California, Prop 36 Hold National Reprecussions


Over the decades, California lawmakers and voters have put in place many measures and policies designed to curb the rate of crime in the state. In 1978, the state of California reinstated the death penalty as a potential punishment from its courts. Later, in 1994, California voters passed Proposition 184, creating a three strikes rule for convicted felons.

Since their implementation, the effectiveness of both of these policies has been questioned. And, on November 6, Californians could potentially change them both with Propositions 34 and 36. These changes are important as both of these initiatives have a high likelihood of passing.

Proposition 34: End the Death Penalty

November 2 Field Poll of likely voters: 45% - in favor; 38% - opposed.

Proposition 34, if passed, would eliminate the death penalty as a sentence in California and replace it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. California is one of 33 states that allows the use of the death penalty and currently has 725 people on death row. However, it has executed only 13 inmates since 1978.

As a Field survey shows, Californians are demonstrating shifting attitudes toward the death penalty and life in prison without parole as punishments. When asked the question “Which is more expensive-the death penalty or life without parole?” 54% of respondents in 1989 chose life without parole while 26% chose the death penalty. In 2012, the opposite is true: 53% of respondents chose the death penalty while only 31% chose life without parole. 

Given that the main arguments used to support banning the death penalty are financial, these changing trends only increase the likelihood of Proposition 34 passing.

Proposition 36: Limit the Three Strikes Rule to Serious and Violent Offenders

November 2 California Business Roundtable Poll of likely voters: 67.4% - in favor; 22.0% opposed.

Under California’s current three strikes law, individuals convicted of a felony will receive a 25 year-to-life if convicted of a third offense after that felony, even if that third offense is a minor crime such as petty theft or drug possession. Proposition 36 will change existing law so that only individuals convicted of a third offense that is considered serious or violent will be given the 25 year-to-life sentence. It is estimated that this change could save the state $100 million. 

Reforming the three strikes law has become an increasingly popular idea, in part, due to high profile cases such as that of Jerry Williams. Williams was sentenced to 25-to-life (although later released after five years) for stealing a slice of pizza as his third offense.

Not all three strikes offenders are convicted for such minor crimes, but, it is still estimated that about 3,000 individuals will be affected by the change.

California is not the only state to have the death penalty or the three strikes law. Thus, proposition 34 and proposition 36 will be important ballot measures to watch on November 6, given their implications for similar policies across the nation.