Pubdate: Wed, 14 Oct 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.


Gov. Jerry Brown's veto messages have few parallels in modern 
politics. At their best, they display a level of erudition and 
thoughtfulness far beyond most politicians. Now we have another 
example in Brown's explanation of why he vetoed nine bills that would 
have added to the complexity of our legal system.

"Each of these bills creates a new crime  usually by finding a novel 
way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already 
proscribed. This multiplication and particularization of criminal 
behavior creates increasing complexity without commensurate benefit," 
the 1964 Yale Law School graduate wrote. He linked the explosion in 
the number of people California incarcerates to the profusion of new 
provisions in the state's criminal code. "Before we keep going down 
this road, I think we should pause and reflect how our system of 
criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective."

This call for a pause is supported by evidence from the social 
sciences. As The New York Times' David Brooks wrote recently on these 
pages, the conventional explanations as to why America imprisons 
people so much more frequently than the rest of the world  the U.S. 
war on drugs and the adoption of "mandatory-minimum" sentencing 
practices  aren't nearly as important as another issue. That's the 
fact that prosecutors in the U.S. are so inclined to seek 
imprisonment as punishment for behavior that is sanctioned less 
severely in other nations.

Tough-on-crime types shouldn't dismiss this criticism as tantamount 
to coddling bad guys. It's not just that prisons are enormously 
expensive; it's that a prison sentence often amounts to a hard cap on 
how successful a life someone can have and makes it far more likely 
that he will be a future burden on the state, in one way or many. If 
other nations are as safe or safer with policies that reject mass 
incarceration, we should look to them.

But there's another, darker reason to seek a simple, clear criminal 
code. In a powerful 42-page essay published in April by the 
Georgetown Law Review, Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit 
Court of Appeals depicted a judicial system that is often hostile to 
justice, citing a long list of ways that it creates a presumption of 
guilt among the accused; encourages prosecutorial abuse of power by 
rarely punishing it; and fills our prisons with people whose offenses 
have been exaggerated.

Kozinski's conclusion: "Repealing a thousand vague and overreaching 
laws and replacing them with laws that are cast narrowly to punish 
morally reprehensible conduct and give fair notice as to what is 
criminal may not solve the problem altogether, but it would be a good start."

A Reagan appointee, Kozinski is no bleeding-heart liberal. We 
wouldn't be surprised if Brown's veto message was influenced by his 
essay. We would have a healthier nation if its influence went far beyond that.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom