Ventura County Law Enforcement Gathers to Oppose Proposition 57

By Tim Pompey

Mayors Huber and Parvin and D>A. Totten

Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten gathered a group of law enforcement and city officials together to launch the “No on Prop 57” campaign at the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association building in Ventura. (left to right in front): Bob Huber, Mayor, Simi Valley, Janice Parvin, Mayor, Moorpark, Greg Totten, Ventura County District Attorney

There are seventeen propositions on California’s state ballot for November 2016. Seventeen issues ranging from requiring employees in the adult film industry to wear condoms to the legalization of recreational marijuana to placing time limits on legal challenges to death sentences. It’s a proposition maze that for the average voter is like trying to untangle fishing line on your living room floor.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s proposition 57, whose interpretation depends on how you parse the language and meaning of “nonviolent felon” and whether or not you trust prosecutors, parole boards, and judges to make the right decisions, especially about nonviolent felons and juvenile offenders.

In essence, proposition 57 would change the State Constitution to allow individuals convicted of “nonviolent felony” offenses to be eligible during their parole hearing to receive sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, or educational achievements. It would also let juveniles have an initial hearing in a juvenile court to determine whether or not they should be transferred to an adult court system. Finally, as explained in California’s official voter information guide, it would require “the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to adopt regulations to implement new parole and sentence credit provisions and certify that they enhance public safety.”

In response to proposition 57, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten and a gathering of Ventura County law enforcement officials launched a “Stop Proposition 57″ campaign at the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association  (VCDSA) headquarters on Tuesday, November 11.

Totten, who is co-chair of the Stop 57 campaign, announced his “strong opposition of the Ventura County law enforcement and community leaders to proposition 57.”

Those in attendance supporting the campaign included: Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, who is also president of the California Police Chief’s Association, Simi Valley Deputy Police Chief David Livingstone, Santa Paula Police Chief Steve McLean, Port Hueneme Interim Police Chief Robert Albertson, Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Peterson, who is president of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, Joel Price, mayor of Thousand Oaks, Janice Parvin, mayor of Moorpark, Diane McCall, mayor of Fillmore, and Bob Huber, mayor of Simi Valley.

Totten’s objections centered around three points:

  • “The claim that it applies to only nonviolent offenders is totally and completely false.”

Currently there is a list of 23 violent felonies ineligible for parole under California Penal Code 667.5 .

Totten claims that the list of nonviolent offenders under prop 57 could include more than 125 additional violent crimes not listed under 667.5. These felony convictions include rape of an unconscious or intoxicated woman, lewd acts with a 15-year-old child, domestic violence, hate crimes, human trafficking, and many gang offenses.

  • “Prop 57 will make more than 16,000 dangerous and violent state prison inmates immediately eligible for early release, and in a few short years that number will grow to 30,000 inmates.”

Included in the press packet provided to reporters by the “No on 57” campaign was a series of baseball type cards with the heading “Meet your new neighbor.” According to Totten, so-called nonviolent felons eligible for early release could include Robert Precobb (convicted child molester), Robert E. Deutsch (nine felony convictions including robbery, theft, and assault), and most notorious, Max Factor heir and convicted rapist, Andrew Luster.

  • “Prop 57 grants an unprecedented constitutional right to state prison inmates for early release consideration and in so doing, it undermines victims’ rights laws here in California, and more than three decades of good criminal justice policy that has served the best interest of Californians and have made California a safer state.”

Regarding the provision in prop 57 that would award sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, or educational achievements, Totten sees the potential for a floodgate of prisoner rights litigation. Calling prop 57 guidelines a “paper tiger,” he referred to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the Board of Parole Hearings  as “bureaucrats that are looking first and primarily at the state prison population and are going to use this law as a safety valve.”

Totten claims that proposition 57 does not include any restrictions based upon the defendant’s priors. Given this potential door to litigation, he complained that the state would be “creating a cottage industry for prisoner rights lawyers that is going to cost the state a small fortune.”

Moreover, in relation to the proposition’s connection to the so-called “three strikes law” (proposition 184 passed in 1994), Totten believes that prop 57 is a further weakening of California’s justice system.

“In relation to three strikes,” said Totten, “what this law does is by using the phrase ‘alternative sentencing,’ it essentially allows bureaucrats the ability to bypass and circumvent the meaning of three strikes. By putting it in the constitution, it emboldens that very thing.”

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean affirmed Totten’s concerns, stating that “Proposition 57 is going to release more violent offenders out of our prisons.”

Dean expressed his uncertainly about what the potential guidelines for the new prop 57 might look like. “The director of CDCR is an outstanding individual,” said Dean, “but who knows how long he will be here? This is like trying to build an airplane while you’re in flight.”

Scott Peterson, president of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, was even more blunt in his assessment.

“Prop 57 to me means one thing,” he claimed. “More cops will be killed.”

Peterson believes it’s dangerous to think that violent criminals can truly be rehabilitated. “The men who killed officers over the past seven days are the same type of criminals who would be released under proposition 57—so-called nonviolent criminals, so-called rehabilitated criminals. These are people who will go out, they will perpetuate crimes against the public once again, they will put our officers at risk, and more officers will die due to the fact that these men, maybe even women, have been released.”

For Governor Jerry Brown, this is a chance to correct something which he himself supported when he was governor in the 1970s: the implementation of determinate sentencing. As a result, he believes that district attorneys are trying to scare people with scenarios that are unrealistic.

“Some of the people try to spook people by saying ‘Oh my God, do you know what this crime is, and they’re eligible for parole. Well, ‘eligible for parole’ is the key word here and if you’re going to have an indeterminate sentence or a bit of an indeterminate sentence, you have to have discretion and you have to have judgment.”

Proposition 57 seems to challenge the sentencing authority of district attorneys, which increased dramatically from the 1970s up to 1994, when proposition 184, the so-called “three strikes” law, was passed.

In this case, the implementation of indeterminate sentencing and the allowance of judges to handle juvenile offenders before their cases are indiscriminately assigned to the adult court system seems to make district attorneys like Totten nervous, especially when it comes to developing new sentencing guidelines.

In addition, prop 57 challenges proposition 21, supported in 2000 by Governor Peter Wilson, which increased the number of criminal penalties for crimes committed by juveniles, and incorporated many juvenile offenders into the adult criminal justice system. With prop 57, it’s the judge in the initial case hearing who has the authority to decide which justice system is best suited for the accused youth.

Brown defends proposition 57 as being both cost efficient and more conducive to a prisoner’s rehabilitation.

“Prop 57 focuses law enforcement on serious violent crime, stops wasting costly prison space on nonviolent people who can be rehabilitated, and directs savings to programs with a proven track record of stopping the cycle of crime,” he responded.

With much of law enforcement’s suspicion aimed at the CDCR and the state’s parole board, Brown asks that the voters give the state the benefit of the doubt. “If you have indeterminate sentencing,” Brown argued, “you can say yes or you can say no, and the problem on the no side is that they believe that if you say yes, you’ll never say no, which has never happened in the history of the parole board and doesn’t happen now. Most parolees get denied on a yearly basis.”

For voters, who worry about having someone like Andrew Luster knock on their door asking for a cup of sugar, there is a quandary about who to trust and whether or not to believe that the state under proposition 57 can figure out the common sense difference between violent and nonviolent felons, even if they don’t show up on the state’s mandated list under California penal code 667.5.

For Brown, who has a background in Catholicism and the priesthood, this is a critical moral and spiritual issue.

“This is a very interesting topic,” he noted, “a very important topic. It tests safety, fear, religion, forgiveness, redemption, the whole definition of who we are as a civilization.”

Tim Pompey, a freelance writer who has done lots of local affairs and entertainment/cultural writing, lives in Oxnard. Tim is also a fiction writer (Facebook Page). You can learn about his books on Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/booksbytimpompey.


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