Despite emotionally charged (and unsupported) claims by the proponents, Proposition 35 is completely unnecessary. It will, however, drive up costs for police training, supervision of sex offenders and state prison operations.
Even worse, the initiative is based on the simplistic notion that we can decrease crime by increasing sentences and 30 years of evidence proves this is not true. The Legislature has already provided broad new penalties and forfeitures for human trafficking in 2011. Don't saddle the state, our children and their children with the expense and harmful effects of this law, which cannot be amended without another vote of the people.
The drafters of Proposition 35 gave it an appealing name, "Californians Against Sexual Exploitation." Everyone is against sexual exploitation, so we should vote for this, right?
There are already federal laws to punish human trafficking, with life sentences for the worst offenders. (The state attorney general estimates the majority of victims are undocumented immigrants, so federal law applies to most of the cases.) There are already state laws punishing commercial sex activities and trafficking with prison, with forfeitures of property, and with long sentences when minors are exploited. What Proposition 35 does is increase those sentences fourfold or fivefold and expand the definitions of trafficking, coercion, forced labor and commercial sex acts so that even mildly offensive acts could bring a life term in prison.
For example, an 18-year-old boy dating a 17-year-old girl who lied to him about her age could end up with life in prison. All he has to do is trick her into letting him take a sexy picture to show his friends in exchange for buying her dinner. Under Proposition 35, this is a commercial sex act committed by fraud with a minor and the boy's belief that she was over 18 is not a defense.
Although supporters claim there is an urgent need, they have offered no credible evidence of rapid increases in trafficking and forced services. No reliable studies have found federal laws and current state laws inadequate to meet the needs of law enforcement going after commercial sex traffickers. In fact, after a 30-year "war on crime," there is now indisputable proof that increasing sentences has little or no effect on crime rates. (See "Time Served, the high cost and low returns of longer prison terms", Pew Center on the States, www.pewstates.org/research/reports.) So Proposition 35 won't reduce trafficking and forced labor crimes.
On the other hand, several sections of Proposition 35 may be unconstitutional, including that outrageous life sentence described above as cruel and unusual punishment. But the law could also require registration as a sex offender even without a sex offense. It places extreme limits on the use of the Internet, which may be unconstitutional and will certainly be very expensive to enforce. It restricts admission of evidence in criminal trials in ways which may make trials unconstitutional and unfair. It is so broad and vague that it may all be struck down. And the cost to the state of defending the law against all these challenges is not insignificant. Over several years it would be in the millions of dollars.
If people are convicted and sentenced to prison under the extreme terms of Proposition 35, the prison budget will take a hit. It presently costs about $47,000 per year per inmate in prison. There are additional costs if new inmates push us above the court-imposed limit of prison population. The governor and Legislature have just been making progress on the huge share of the budget going to prison costs with "realignment." That would be undermined if there is widespread sentencing under the new and expanded provisions of this initiative.
Proposition 35 could lead to many abuses. A crusading DA or sheriff could seek felony convictions and prison terms for adults working in the legal "porn" and erotic services industry. In fact, the prominent role of anti-sex activists and religious conservatives as supporters of Proposition 35 suggests they may welcome just such abuse of the law. What they see as the decline in morality evidenced by the popularity of Internet porn and tolerance of the LGBT communities could be their intended target.
Proposition 35 won't do anything to stop sexual exploitation, but it will cost taxpayers millions and force law-abiding citizens to defend spurious charges. Vote no on 35.