By Jason KUROSU
Should Proposition 34 pass, California would become the 18th state in the country to repeal the death penalty, with capital punishment remaining one of the most controversial and divisive legal issues worldwide. The proposition would not only prevent all future death sentences, but also nullify current ones. Each of California’s 725 inmates currently serving time on death row would have their sentences changed to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
In addition to those changes, the earnings of death row inmates would be used to create a victim’s compensation fund.
From the text of the proposition, “Today, less than 1% of inmates on death row work and, as a result, they pay little restitution to victims. Every person convicted of murder should be required to work in a high-security prison and money earned should be used to help victims through the victim’s compensation fund…”
A second fund, totaling $100 million, would be used to investigate unsolved rapes and homicides.
Positions on the proposed measure reflect the usual conflicting opinions on capital punishment. Proponents argue that the death penalty has done little to deter criminals and costs more than keeping prisoners alive. The proposition’s opponents argue that justice for the families of homicide victims will not be properly achieved without a death penalty.
While Proposition 34 reduces punishment for criminals in certain cases, Proposition 35, also known as the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, increases current penalties for human traffickers. Whether it be sex or human labor trafficking, sentences for those involved will increase if Proposition 35 passes. Current law sets sentences for human traffickers at around five to eight years. Proposition 35’s sentences would increase human labor trafficking sentences to 12 years and sex trafficking sentences to a maximum of 20 years to life (life sentences could be handed down if minors are involved in sex trafficking).
Additionally, anyone convicted of sex trafficking would have to register as a sex offender and all registered sex offenders would be required to provide their online information, such as email addresses and anything used in online communications such as screen names.
Proposition 35 would also expand the legal definition of human trafficking to include production or distribution of child pornography.
Victims would also receive more protection, as those prostituted by sex traffickers would not be prosecuted for any criminal sexual charges.
Lastly, fines would be assessed to anyone convicted of human trafficking offenses. These fines can reach amounts up to $1.5 million.
The text of the proposition states, “Seventy percent of the fines collected and deposited shall be granted to public agencies and nonprofit corporations that provide shelter, counseling, or other direct services for trafficked victims. Thirty percent of the fines collected and deposited shall be granted to law enforcement and prosecution agencies in the jurisdiction in which the charges were filed to fund human trafficking prevention, witness protection, and rescue operations.”
A proposed measure punishing human traffickers and sex offenders certainly draws less opposition and conflict than the death penalty, but opponents of the measure have suggested that the current wording of the proposed law could lead to constitutionality issues.
With victims of trafficking protected from giving testimony which would be “inadmissible to attack the credibility or impeach the character of the victim in any civil or criminal proceeding,” some worry that this potentially necessary evidence will prevent defendants from receiving a fair trial.
How the proposition will directly affect the trials of human traffickers can only be speculated at this point, but what is certain is that should Proposition 35 pass, traffickers can expect harsher punishments if they are convicted.