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October 4, 2011

Examining California's new prison placement law (and its possible impact on the King of Pop's doc)

I have not been closely following the on-going trial of Conrad Murray, the doctor charged with being criminally responsible for causing Michael Jackson's premature demise.  I am intrigued and pleased to discover, however, that this new AP story finds a way to link that trial and Murray's potential sentencing to the new laws in California enacted in part to help the state comply with the Plata SCOTUS ruling concerning the state's overcrowded prisons.  Here is how the lengthy new AP piece starts:

Gov. Jerry Brown and others who supported the dramatic shift in California's sentencing law that took effect this week have said it will send only those convicted of nonviolent or non-serious crimes to county jails instead of state prison, a change designed to save the state money and reduce inmate crowding.

Yet a review by The Associated Press of crimes that qualify for local sentences shows at least two dozen offenses shifting to local control that can be considered serious or violent. Among them: Involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, killing or injuring a police officer while resisting arrest, participating in a lynching, possession of weapons of mass destruction, possessing explosives, threatening a witness or juror, and using arson or explosives to terrorize a health facility or church.  Assault, battery, statutory rape and sexual exploitation by doctors or psychotherapists are also covered by the prison realignment law and carry sentences that will be served in a county jail instead of state prison.

"These crimes include a variety of offenses that would strike many civilians as far from trivial," Public Policy Institute of California researcher Dean Misczynski wrote in a recent analysis of the new law [available at this link].  A list of 500 criminal code sections to be covered by the law was compiled by the California District Attorneys Association and posted late last month to its website [at this link].  In response to a request by the AP, the state attorney general's office confirmed the association's review was accurate but said defendants with a previous felony conviction or those charged with enhancements would still be sent to state prison.

Among those who could be affected by the new law if convicted is Dr. Conrad Murray, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.  Legal experts said he would serve his maximum four-year sentence in a Los Angeles County jail instead of state prison.

The length of sentences won't necessarily change, but the realignment law does offer significant differences for inmates.  Parole will disappear for offenders who serve their terms in county jails, including Murray, if he is convicted.  Offenders who serve their full sentences behind bars will not be supervised once they are released.  Parole officers will not be tracking their movements or making sure they comply with conditions such as substance abuse treatment.

Judges also have the discretion to impose "hybrid" or "split sentences" in which offenders serve part of their sentence in county jail and the rest on what is being called "mandatory supervision," overseen by probation officers.

Offenders convicted of more significant crimes still are likely to get lengthier sentences, even if they are served in jail instead of prison, said Scott Thorpe, chief executive officer of the state district attorneys association.  But sentencing more serious offenders to jail rather than state prison will likely force counties that already have crowded jails to release less serious offenders who are serving time for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft, forgery, counterfeiting and drug crimes.

Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley is among those complaining that counties will be forced to release lower-level offenders by the thousands before they have served their full terms.

October 4, 2011 at 07:41 PM | Permalink


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Well, given that the typical Los Angeles county inmate serves 10% of their sentence it's not like their normal population is serving their full terms as it is.

One thing I wonder about, is the county actually required to hold onto these transferred felons for the full term or can the jail apply the normal overcrowding release calculations? And will that change if the legislature does not come through with the next batch of funding?

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 4, 2011 8:17:07 PM

Soronel --

Excellent questions. Knowing how the government operates, my suspicion is that the counties have no intention of holding these inmates, and aim to release them as soon as the press turns its attention elsewhere. If they're caught at it, the excuse will be that the state didn't provide enough (or any) money.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 4, 2011 9:27:33 PM

'Los Angeles county inmate serves 10% of their sentence'

incorrect it's closer to 25% of their sentence

Posted by: comment | Oct 5, 2011 1:53:21 PM

Unfortunately, those offenses are just the tip of the iceberg. I wonder how Californians will react when they discover that drunk drivers can reoffend as often as they want but can't go to prison until they hurt someone (unless they kill without gross negligence in which case they can't go to prison...).
Similarly, car thieves and drug sellers can't go to prison. They also are considered, "low level offenders" by this law.
So as we return to the failed rehabilitation-first policies of the 70's in the Governor's rush to save the state money, the bottom line is that if you liked Rose Bird, you'll love our new (lack of) sentencing law.

Posted by: Cal. Prosecutor | Oct 5, 2011 7:19:53 PM

well Cal Prosecutor maybe if you and your fellow prosecutors and your bosses in the state capital had gotten off your tails 20 years ago you would not now be in this mess.

If nothing else you could have put the choice in front of your REAL BOSSES you know the VOTERS!

seems pretty simple actually. really only have a few choices

We now NO LONGER have the room for the people we keep convicting as you the people wish!

by the law of god or islam or whoever as well as constutional protections as federal and state law that govern the control and housing of prisoners!

so we have to INCREASE the amount of prisons, guards, doctors, nurses and so on till we have the legally required ratio of staff, facility and so on per inmate. Which of course means other services are CUT or TAXES are GOING UP!


we STOP sending so many people to prison either by stopping to convict on so many nit-picking laws or via other forms of punishment.

Otherwise the COURTS will EVENTUALY tell us just what we can or can't do! ONLY pity is it took them 20 YEARS to see t hough the continual LIES from the state govt in it's so-called process of compling with all the court orders!

so simple even a lieing screwup politician should be able to get it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 6, 2011 12:55:51 PM

If nothing else you could have put the choice in front of your REAL BOSSES you know the VOTERS!

seems pretty simple actually. really only have a few choices

Posted by: John | Oct 9, 2011 9:00:07 AM

they are so many innocent people behind bars getting charged with involuntary manslaugther and getting 10 years in prison just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time around gang members like my husband he had no jail or prison record in the past till now and the worst part is he is in Mississippi now me and my children can't even visit him anymore it's sad how one bad night can really turn in such a nite mare he never did drugs or have any tatoos he was just another hard working man that's about the only record he had i know this is all about money if they want to save money then why do they keep holding innocent people in jails or in prison is it just cuss they want more money of course!!!!

Posted by: Viviana | Jan 3, 2012 3:34:50 AM

I dont think that inmates with strikes should have to go back to prison if there current crime is a scrape of a meth pipe. Why take up a bed and make tax payers pay for a scrape of a pipe. I think the judge should take the current crime and sentence that not there past. I beleive that a judge can strike there strike for that they can get some kind of drug program and help with the problem. They say that jails and prisons are over crowded so why are we sending someone with a scrape of a pipe to prison.

Posted by: Jeri Stanley | Feb 17, 2013 1:50:38 PM

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