Proposition 9, the “Victims’ Bill of Rights Act 2008: Marsy’s Law,” is an unnecessary, costly and ill-conceived proposition that erodes criminal justice with little addition to existing victims’ rights.
The “Victims’ Bill of Rights,” established by popular vote in 1982, already entails many of the rights addressed in the current proposition. Under the former bill, crime victims already have the right to be notified of, be present at and to participate in sentencing and parole hearings. A victim of violent crime also has the right to receive notification if the offender escapes, is released or is executed. All victims of crime are entitled to restitution if they have suffered financial loss or loss of property. All decisions regarding bail, sentencing, parole or release are required to include consideration of public safety—of which the victim is a part.
Approving Proposition 9 would unnecessarily duplicate and complicate these rights. For example, victims would have the right to be present at and participate in bail hearings. They would also be able to do so before the defendant has been tried. Victims would have the constitutional right to confer with the prosecution about charges filed against the defendant and extradition proceedings. These are fundamental and significant changes to the criminal justice system in California. As these would be additions to the Constitution, they could only be modified or updated by referendum.
There are several valuable measures included in Proposition 9, including measures to protect the privacy of victims, to prioritize restitution payments and ensure that victims of crime are notified of their rights. This may well improve victims’ treatment by the criminal justice system.
However, these good ideas are overwhelmingly mitigated by the new measures in Proposition 9 that erode offenders’ rights. These measures are motivated by an approach to criminal justice that focuses on punishment and retribution. Parole hearings would be less frequent, evidence from previous hearings would not be admitted and offenders would not automatically be afforded legal counsel in these hearings. Furthermore, Proposition 9 explicitly requires that sentences should not be “substantially diminished” by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early-release policies for non-violent offenders. Together, these changes would keep more people in prison longer.
California’s prison system is already overcrowded, under-funded and in desperate need of modernization. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation currently manages a total population of over 170,000 offenders and operated on a budget of $9.7 billion last year. Health care services in California prisons are currently under the management of a federally appointed receiver, who in August filed a court order for an additional $8 billion over the coming five years; $3.1 billion of this would add 20 percent to the projected $15 billion shortfall this year. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Proposition 9 would cost hundreds of millions annually. The Californian prison system is in no shape to absorb these costs.
Proposition 9 constitutes an unnecessary, costly and redundant change to criminal justice in California. Vote no on Proposition 9.
Jeremy Hill is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed Under: Opinion