Patterico's Pontifications

9/27/2004

Shocker: L.A. Times Prints Story Biased Against Three Strikes Law

Filed under: Dog Trainer,No on 66 — Patterico @ 9:42 pm

This morning’s L.A. Times has another shoddy and biased article on Proposition 66, the initiative to gut the Three Strikes Law in California. The article features more minimizing of convicts’ criminal histories, uncritical acceptance of sob stories, and misleading and unchecked rhetoric concerning the law’s likely impact.

Can’t they find anybody who understands the law, is willing to do a little research, and can write a fair article?

Here’s my favorite part:

Dorothy Erskine, whose nephew Brian Smith is serving 25 years to life on a third strike for shoplifting, said . . . her nephew’s criminal history was connected to drugs, an addiction that began after his mother died of cancer when he was 17. Erskine said Smith had prior convictions for stealing a car, using force on the driver and burglarizing an unoccupied house.

Uh, L.A. Times? There’s a word for stealing someone’s car by using force on the driver. It’s called carjacking.

This is how the L.A. Times operates, folks. Carjackings are described as “car thefts.” Robberies are described as “shoplifts.” Sometimes you’re told on the back pages that force was used. Sometimes you’re not told at all — as when robberies are described as “nonviolent shoplifting offenses.”

Note to reporter Megan Garvey: the next time you’re carjacked, you let me know whether you see any difference between the offenses of carjacking and simple car theft. If you’re still alive to tell the tale, that is.

This story also employs yet another hallmark of the typical L.A. Times story on the Three Strikes Law — an uncritical acceptance of whatever sob story is being peddled by repeat criminals and/or their families. Note how, in the quote above, the reporter simply takes the word of the criminal’s family member regarding the nature of her relative’s criminal history: “Erskine said Smith had prior convictions for [carjacking] and burglarizing an unoccupied house.”

You’d think the Times reporters had no way of digging into someone’s actual criminal history. Odd how, when Darrell Issa is running for Governor, the Times is able to dig up his juvenile arrest for car theft, which resulted in a dismissal. But when criminals and their family members relate sad stories of third-strikers incarcerated for allegedly petty offenses, Times reporters suddenly lose all competence to perform an independent check of someone’s criminal history.

This is a real problem, because — as I have noted on these pages before — third-strikers (and those who are close to them) aren’t always completely forthcoming about all the sordid details of a repeat criminal’s history. As a result, when journalists do some independent digging, they often find some significant misstatements and omissions in the third-striker’s story.

Finally, no L.A. Times story on Three Strikes would be complete without a couple of misstatements of the law. In this regard, this story does not disappoint:

Under the law, second-strikers — those with two serious or violent felonies on their record — must serve 80% of their sentence before being considered for parole. A third conviction, or strike, for a less serious felony can trigger a sentence of 25 years to life.

Actually, the term “second-striker” is commonly used to refer to a criminal with one serious or violent felony on his record. Upon a conviction for any subsequent felony, the second-striker’s previous strike not only reduces the available prison credits to 20% (meaning he must serve 80% of his time), it also doubles his base sentence — a slightly more significant point.

The article also lets initiative proponent Joe Klaas get away with a howler:

“It is misleading and inaccurate for opponents to say that anyone will be ‘released’ by Prop. 66,” he said. “Prop. 66 allows for new trials, new charges, and releases no one. Prosecutors would be able to retry anyone who seeks to be resentenced under Prop. 66. Prop. 66 opponents continue to make claims that a judge has found to be ‘patently false’ and ‘mathematically impossible.’ “

Gee, Joe. Prop. 66 isn’t going to “release” anyone? Then what’s all the fuss about?

See, Joe, Prop. 66 provides any criminal serving 25-to-life for a current non-strike offense the right to be resentenced. This means that, within 1 to 6 months of the initiative’s passage, most criminals currently serving 25-to-life will have their sentences reduced to about 3 years, of which they must serve half. Anyone who has been in more than 1 1/2 years will be released on the day they are resentenced. Yes, Joe — “released.”

Who’s being “misleading and inaccurate” now?

It is also a bald-faced lie for Klaas to claim that prosecutors “would be able to retry anyone who seeks to be resentenced under Prop. 66.” Joe, you left out a few small problems: (1) retrials are possible only when the statute of limitations has not run; (2) retrials cannot possibly result in a Three Strikes sentence if the current offense is not a strike; and (3) prosecutors must seek special court permission to retry anyone who was convicted based on a guilty plea.

So you see, Joe, it’s more than a little “misleading and inaccurate” to say the proposition “releases no one.” Had the reporter bothered to consult a single independent expert, that expert would have confirmed this. I believe that even as shameless and intellectually dishonest a liberal as Erwin Chemerinsky would admit the indisputable facts I have set forth here.

I’m sure it’s just coincidence that all of the errors in this story favor the passage of the initiative — an initiative designed to weaken a Three Strikes law that the paper also just happens to oppose. Yup . . . coincidence.

UPDATE: Thanks to Xrlq for correcting my grammar — it has been corrected in the post.

(Though I will point out that I had, in fact, highlighted Klaas’s lies in bold — so my post was “incorrect but accurate” and Xrlq has failed to rebut the “thrust” of my comment.)

5 Responses to “Shocker: L.A. Times Prints Story Biased Against Three Strikes Law”

  1. Last night the Al Rantel Show had Erwin pitching for Prop 66. I would like to see Rantel do this again with you debating Cherminsky. I think with both sides represented at the same time, the pro Prop 66 people can not get away with the misrepresntations. Think about it.

    julie (cf60a7)

  2. It is also a boldfaced lie for Klaas to claim that prosecutors “would be able to retry anyone who seeks to be resentenced under Prop. 66.

    Actually, that was a bald-faced lie. Here’s a bold-faced lie:

    The Los Angeles Times is a high-quality, fair and balanced newspaper.

    Xrlq (816c74)

  3. No.

    Michelle Evans (fb9ad7)

  4. “THE SICK MAN OF THE WEST COAST”
    Patterico continues his relentless assault on the dishonest and L.A. Times Prints Story Biased Against Three Strikes Law” href=”http://patterico.com/archives/002793.php”>incompetent journalism of the LA Times. This paper really sucks, and…

    PRESTOPUNDIT -- "It's a team sport, baby!" (84db7a)

  5. Dept. of Stupid Questions
    . . . if they assigned their story to someone who’d write a fair, accurate, well-researched article, it would undercut their goal of deceiving the public.

    Fat Steve's Blatherings (28eb22)


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