« New California report finds many challenges in sex offender monitoring | Main | How might election results (and subsequent sparring) impact Prez Obama's clemency plans? »

November 6, 2014

Impact of California's Prop 47 already being felt ... by defense attorneys and police

This local article from California, headlined "Scramble to implement Prop 47 begins," spotlight the impact already being felt by the passage of the biggest criminal justice reform initiative of Election 2014.  Here are the (already remarkable) basics:

Just hours after the last ballot returns were counted, the phone lines of defense attorneys across the state began to light up Wednesday morning with calls from inmates.

With the passage of Proposition 47, simple drug possession and property crimes valued under $950 are now misdemeanors, effective immediately. Punishment means, at the worst, up to a year in jail, no longer prison. It also means up to 10,000 inmates serving time for those crimes can begin to apply for shortened sentences, a process many were eager to get started.

“This morning at 8 a.m., we took 10 attorneys and put them on the phones,” said Randy Mize, a chief deputy at the Public Defender’s Office. “They were taking 200 calls an hour from inmates in county jail. These are people asking us to file petitions on their behalf.”

The scramble to put the new law into practice was starting to touch all corners of the criminal justice system Wednesday, from the City Attorney’s Office, which will have to handle 3,000 extra cases a year, to police officers who will have new protocols to follow for certain arrests.

At Juvenile Hall Wednesday morning, six kids were released because they had felony charges that are now classified as misdemeanors under Proposition 47, and legally minors can’t be detained longer than an adult would, authorities said. “I think the roll out today started fairly smoothly,” Mize said. He attributed much of that to the fact that criminal justice leaders from around the county — including prosecutors, public defenders, the sheriff and probation officers — have been meeting for the past month to prepare for this day....

The law is intended to ease prison overcrowding, and put most of the estimated $200 million saved in prison costs annually into drug and mental health treatment programs to staunch recidivism. The majority of law enforcement officials around the state and the county are skeptical it will have the desired effect, and fear less time behind bars will only contribute to the revolving door of the criminal justice system. But, officials say, they will do their best to make it work. “It’s still a work in progress,” Sheriff Bill Gore said Wednesday. “Our primary concern is clearly the public’s safety.”...

Law enforcement officers were reminded of the new law in police lineups around the county. As of Wednesday, six crimes that used to be felonies are now misdemeanors: drug possession for personal use, as well as five property crimes valued below $950, theft, writing bad checks, forgery, shoplifting and receiving stolen property.

One of the biggest differences when arresting someone on a misdemeanor, rather than a felony, is that the crime must have occurred in the officer’s presence, or be witnessed by a citizen willing to sign an affidavit saying so. Several training memos have been distributed in the past few weeks to prepare deputies on such arrests, Gore said....

The Public Defender’s Office has already identified about 200 state prisoners and 1,800 other offenders either in jail or under the supervision of probation who might be eligible to be resentenced under Proposition 47. The first set of petitions are expected to be filed within the next day or so, with priority given to those in custody. Once the application is filed in court, the District Attorney’s Office will review it to make sure the person is eligible, then a judge will OK it and hand down a new, shorter sentence. The process could be as quick as a few weeks for the first group of offenders, said Mize, with public defender’s office.

“There will be a few cases that the DA thinks should be excluded, and we don’t, and those will be litigated,” Mize said. There may also be a few offenders that prosecutors think are too dangerous to be released, and those cases will be argued. Inmates who can’t be resentenced are those who have prior convictions such as murder, attempted murder and violent sex crimes.

The public defender’s office has also identified nearly 200,000 other people who have been convicted since 1990 — that’s as far back as its database goes — of the crimes reclassified under Proposition 47. They can now apply to have their records show misdemeanor rather than felony convictions. Statewide, that could apply to millions of people. Said Mize, “It will certainly take a lot more work in the short term.”


Prior related posts on California's Prop 47:

November 6, 2014 at 04:26 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e201bb07a711e8970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Impact of California's Prop 47 already being felt ... by defense attorneys and police:

Comments

The change in the police's job is fairly straight forward here. Most drug possession cases do occur in their presence so I don't think it'll change much (plus, they're probably used to issuing summonses for marijuana anyway). Larceny is the same way. They probably issue summons for Petit Larceny, so it's just a number change. I agree that it's important they get the memo about the law change, but it's not a dramatic thing.

That's in comparison to the massive increase in workload for Public Defender offices. I do wonder if California's statute actually authorizes them to take the cases (as a general rule, collateral proceedings are not critical stages where a defendant is entitled to counsel. While California can certainly authorize counsel beyond that point, it's a separate question whether they have). However, if they can handle the extra caseload without a dip in representation for their Constitutionally required clients, good for them. I do wonder if the whole thing can't just be handled administratively, though.

As a side issue, how do they determine whose felonies are now misdemeanors. I get it's easy if the indictment specifies the exact value, but what if it just said "greater than X" (the old value)? Would all those cases now be misdemeanors or is the burden on the inmate to demonstrate the actual value?

Posted by: Erik M | Nov 8, 2014 10:12:23 AM

What we have come up against is since the prop47 passing and the d.a. had just dropped the charges to possession,but wanted a felony charge decided to dismiss the whole case only to refile and charge all of the original charges and add enhancements to avoid the prop47 bill is this legal?
I am the parent of a paralegal student

Posted by: k lake | Nov 11, 2014 11:51:58 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB