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Monday, October 5, 2015

California Governor Vetoes Drone Bills; Denounces Creation of New Crimes

The Los Angeles Times has this report on California Governor Jerry Brown's veto of several bills that would criminalize flying drones over wildfires, schools, and prisons and jails.  Governor Brown vetoed all three (and several other) bills with a veto message denouncing the creation of new crimes.

Of all of the drone-related bills mentioned in the article, the most notable is the bill prohibiting drone flights over wildfires.  I have not looked very much into coverage of the bill, or other laws restricting wildfire observation and interference with firefighting efforts to know if there are indeed pre-existing laws that would neatly apply to flying drones in the vicinity of a wildfire.  Moreover, the bill prohibiting drone flights near wildfires would immunize firefighters who disabled the drones -- a helpful provision that, again, I am not sure already exists in other laws restricting interference with fire fighting.

The intricacies of the drone-wildfire bill aside, Governor Brown's veto message makes a refreshing point about California's vast penal code. Here is the veto message:

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. 
Over the last several decades, California's criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 provisions covering every almost conceivable form of human misbehavior. 
During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded. 
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.

Edmund G. Brown Jr.
I have blogged about some of California's stranger criminal laws here and here. I think that Governor Brown is correct to criticize the creation of new crimes that may already punished under existing statutes. Hopefully more legislators take heed of this message and maybe (just maybe) some of them will take up the thankless task of clearing up some of the chaos that already exists.

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