Proposition 196
Death Penalty Proposition: Drive-by Shootings

The information below was provided by the California Journal.

Background: In the run-up to his 1994 re-election campaign, Governor Pete Wilson unveiled a tough-on-crime legislative package, which included making drive-by shooting and carjacking murders eligible for the death penalty. The year was a good one for crime bills, most of which passed easily in the wake of the hugely popular three-strikes law. But the several death-penalty bills died in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The atmosphere changed halfway through 1995, when Assembly Republicans finally were able to turn their election victories into majorities on policy committees. A more conservative committee passed the death-penalty measures out with little trouble. The Legislature as a whole sent the bills to the governor with a substantial majority vote, but both must be ratified by a vote of the people before becoming law. Under state law, murder is ordinarily punished by a 25-years-to-life sentence, with the possibility of parole. To be eligible for the death penalty, the killing must have taken place in conjunction with one of a list of special circumstances such as robbery, rape or arson.

Proposal: Proposition 196 adds murder in the course of a drive-by shooting to the list of special circumstances qualifying a defendant for the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole. The state legislative analyst estimates that costs to the state, depending on the number of new life-without-parole sentences, could run into several million dollars annually over time.

Arguments for: Proponents, including Governor Wilson, the California District Attorneys' Association, crime victims and a wide range of law enforcement groups, say that drive-by shootings have snowballed to epidemic proportions in the state, spreading outside urban settings and increasingly harming uninvolved bystanders. They cite a 1991 study that found an average of more than one youth under 18 to have been a victim of drive-by shooting every week in Los Angeles in 1991. Making this crime eligible for the death penalty will serve as a needed deterrent, they say.

Arguments against: Opponents include a handful of law enforcement officials, the American Friends Service Committee of Northern California, church organizations and liberal advocacy groups. They note that the death penalty has not significantly reduced violence in other areas where it has been tried. This specific proposal makes an irrational distinction based on the location of the murderer, they say, so that the same drive-by killer would not necessarily have been eligible for the death penalty if he were standing outside a car while committing the crime. This artificial distinction may raise constitutional challenges.

For additional information please see:

Secretary of State Ballot Pamphlet

Campaign Finance Data from the Secretary of State

Original Legislation

California State Senate Office of Research

California League of Women Voters

Easy Reader Voter Guide

Related News Articles

Campaign Web Sites:

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