Thursday, October 23, 2014

Decoding Prop 47, “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” by DA Barbara Yook

Prop 47 reduces some felonies to misdemeanors but assures us the public will remain safe because no dangerous offenders will benefit.  Once the clever language of Prop 47 is decoded however, the impacts of Prop 47 are opposite its assurance and title.

Domestic violence, child abuse, stalking, involuntary manslaughter, and resisting an officer causing death are already considered “non-serious” and “non-violent” crimes under the law.  Residential burglary, carjacking, robbery, and arson are considered “serious” or “violent” crimes under the law and these are commonly called “strikes”.  Under Prop 47, none of the above crimes will be considered a “danger” to public safety.

Prop 47 limits “dangerous” to a short list of “super strikes” in Penal Code Section 667(e)(2)(C)(iv) which includes murder and certain types of child molestation.  No question that the “super strikes” are dangerous crimes.  However, there should also be no question that crimes such as arson, burglary, child abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, and exploding a device with intent to injure or terrify, to name but a few, pose a danger to public safety.  Prop 47 says otherwise.

Prop 47 re-defines petty theft to include all theft as long as the value of the item does not exceed $950.  Theft of a handgun, theft of livestock, and purse snatching, as long as the value does not exceed $950, will be misdemeanors unless the thief has one of the specific “super strikes” or is a sex offender registrant.  Under Prop 47, it won’t matter if the thief is a career criminal with multiple burglary convictions or even multiple serious or violent “strike” convictions, the thief can only be charged with a misdemeanor in the same manner as a first time offender.

Under Prop 47, possession of methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin, are also mandated misdemeanors for offenders without a “super strike” or sex offender status.   It won’t matter if this was the tenth time the offender was caught or the tenth failed rehab, or if the offender has a history of committing violence while on drugs with multiple violent “strike” convictions, the offense is exactly the same as if it is the first time.  Significantly, Prop 47’s mandate for misdemeanors undercuts incentives for rehabilitation and will likely end successful rehabilitation programs such as Drug Court.

These, and other penalty reductions under Prop 47, not only apply to any new offenses, but also convictions that have already occurred.  Any offender without a “super strike” or sex offender status will be able to have their conviction undone and reduced under the new lower standards.  The convictions of these offenders will be undone and reduced unless the offender poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.  Under Prop 47, however, the only type of offender who poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety is an offender who is likely to commit a “super strike”.  Even an offender with a long history of violence and “strikes” and likely to “strike” again is not “dangerous” under this new definition and will be eligible for immediate release.  Prop 47 will, according to its backers, result in the release of approximately 10,000 inmates.

In 2011, AB109 determined that most “non-serious” and “non-violent” crimes are not dangerous enough to justify a prison term.  In 2012, Prop 36 substantially undercut the “three strikes” laws.  If successful on November 4, 2014, Prop 47 will bring more sweeping changes to the criminal justice system.  It is unclear how the funding stream intended by Prop 47 will result in safe neighborhoods and schools in Calaveras County after the State takes its cut off the top and the costs of re-doing convictions are factored in.  What is clear is that when you decode the clever language of Prop 47, the new narrow definition of “dangerous” proposed by Prop 47 is an insult to victims and Prop 47 itself will pose an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
Barbara M. Yook
District Attorney
Calaveras County