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California Veto of Bail Reform Heads List of Mixed Justice Ballot Results

Voters delivered a mixed message on criminal justice reform Tuesday.

With the final tally still unclear, a proposal to eliminate cash bail in California was soundly rejected but measures on sentencing reform in Nebraska and Utah received the green light.

The California verdict was so far the biggest blow to reformers.  Proposition 25, billed as the most far-reaching reform among the 40 or so measures around the country that put justice on the ballot,  would have abolished cash bail and allowed judges to decide whether a defendant should be freed before trial.

The most recent tally showed the proposal heading for a resounding defeat, with some 55 percent of Californian giving it a thumbs-down. Observers said the results reflected a strong lobbying campaign from the bail bond industry, but opponents also included California’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have prohibited judges and prosecutors from using sentence enhancements to lengthen the time that repeat, nonviolent offenders spend in prison beyond the maximum times listed in state law.

Over 60 percent of the voters rejected State Question 805, a result that reform advocates said would set back efforts to reduce prison numbers in a state with one of the nation’s largest rates of incarceration.

But opponents said it would allow policymakers space to develop more acceptable strategies. was defeated

“Now the Legislature … has an obligation to go back and take a hard look at what needs to be done,” said former Gov. Frank Keating, a spokesperson for Oklahomans United Against 805.”

Measures in Nebraska and Utah, removing language that allows slavery and involuntary servitude as punishments were passed.

And in Kentucky voters approved by a wide margin, Amendment 1 to expand rights to crime victims. The so-called “Marsy’s Law” amendment will provide crime victims with specific constitutional rights, including the right to be treated with fairness and due consideration for the victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy; to be notified about proceedings; to be heard at proceedings involving release, plea, or sentencing of the accused.

On the reform side, Californians appeared poised to approve Prop. 17 to restore voting rights to persons on parole, with 59 percent of the tally so far in favor; and they turned down a tough-on-crime measure which would have toughened penalties for repeated parole violations and make it more difficult for some convicted felons to qualify for early parole.

In one of the most closely watched District Attorney races around the country, former San Francisco DA George Gascon commands a decisive lead over his opponent, incumbent Jackie Lacey.

The election of Gascon, a former Los Angeles police officer who served as chief of police in San Francisco and subsequently the city’s District Attorney, would put the nation’s largest District Attorney’s office in the ranks of so-called “progressive” prosecutors.

TCR news reporting intern Emily Riley contributed to this summary.