Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Not Just a Good Day for Obama

President Obama isn't the only person who had a good Election Day -- in states around the country, supporters of state crime and sentencing referendums had reason to cheer, too.

In California, voters narrowed the scope of their infamous three strikes law.

The measure, which passed handily by more than a 20 percentage-point margin [!!!], revises the Three Strikes Law to impose a life sentence only under two circumstances -- when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent,'' or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a murderer, rapist or child molester. Under the existing Three Strikes law, only California, out of 24 states with similar laws, allows the third strike to be any felony.

As a result, offenders who have committed such relatively minor third strikes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen for food, or forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom have been sentenced to life in prison.
Good riddance to those kinds of injustices!  And the big margin of victory shows that California voters understand something their legislators don't:  mandatory minimum sentencing laws produce too many crazy, unintended, common sense-defying consequences.

In Washington State and Colorado, voters legalized recreational use of marijuana.  Results on pot referendums were mixed around the country, but generally leaned toward loosening marijuana restrictions:
Under the measures in Colorado and Washington, those 21 years of age and older will be allowed to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana. Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed with 54 percent of the vote, and Washington’s Initiative 502 garnered 55 percent.
However, a similar ballot measure in Oregon was rejected, with 55 percent voting against.
Ballots in three states — Massachusetts, Arkansas and Montana — included referendums on medical marijuana. Voters approved the initiatives in Massachusetts and Montana, but Arkansas’ Issue 5 was defeated.
(For the record, FAMM has no position on marijuana legalization.)

But a word of caution to those contemplating a move to Colorado or Washington to toke up or open up shop:  marijuana possession, growing, and distribution are still federal crimes, often carrying heavy mandatory minimum prison sentences.  Just because it's legal in a state doesn't mean it's no longer a federal crime -- and so far, the Department of Justice is mum on how it plans to address that conflict.

At a minimum, we hope the new referendums on marijuana and three strikes law reform spark a conversation on reforming federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  States have been way out ahead of the feds on reforming mandatory minimums, and the results have generally been good (no huge drug crime rate spikes, plus some prison cost and bed space savings for taxpayers).

This year, the states have shown their desire for innovation and, in the case of California's three strikes law, more common sense in sentencing.  We hope Congress takes a cue from the states and gives mandatory minimum sentencing reform a real shot in 2013.

1 Comment:

Noisy in Boise said...

Maybe looking hard at the injustices of mandatory minimum sentencing laws will be the very thing Congress can come together on in 2013: A good cause for which to reach across the aisle. For the good of America, both fiscally and humanely.