Prop. 57 Favored Violent Criminals Over Public Safety

Police carWe told the truth about Prop 57 prior to the November 2016 election; that it would free violent felons years early. We said it would free sex offenders. We said it would free criminals whose sentences were enhanced due to prior violent strike offenses. Well, the sex offenders already sued and won their claim that they are entitled to be considered for early release based upon the language of Prop 57. Now the third-strikers with violent criminal histories have done the same and won.  An Appellate Court decision this past week made that crystal clear, ruling that under Prop 57, inmates serving three strike sentences for what are clearly violent crimes are entitled to early release even if decades remained on their sentence.

Prop 57 was a poorly drafted, last minute initiative that hijacked another initiative regarding direct filing of juvenile charges. The California Supreme Court ruled that it could go on to the ballot despite failing to comply with a 2014 law prohibiting wholesale changes in pending initiatives and requiring 30 days of public comment. In his dissent, Justice Ming W. Chin cogently noted that Prop 57 was “exactly the sort of measure that would greatly benefit from public comment and the opportunity to make amendments” as they would “easily expose its drafting flaws.”

A key drafting flaw was the farcical claim that Prop 57 only applied to “non-violent” inmates. That is because the proponents failed to define what were “non-violent” crimes, with a legal presumption that any crime not explicitly defined as “violent” would qualify for early release. As we have highlighted time and time again, demonstrably “violent” inmates have been released early thanks to Prop 57, including criminals who have committed horrible beatings and stabbings of women in domestic violence situations and stabbings and assaults on fellow prison inmates and correctional officers.

However, there is a partial fix in 2020 that will help fulfill the promise of Prop 57 proponents to California voters that “violent” inmates would not be eligible for early release under its provisions. The “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act” will be on the ballot, and among other provisions will reclassify crimes currently considered “non-violent” under Prop 57 as “violent,” ensuring inmates serving time in prison for these crimes are ineligible for early release under Prop 57. Because Prop 57 was a constitutional amendment, it will be difficult for the citizens to fix all the bad drafting, but the Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act is a start.

resident of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Needs Criminal Justice Reforms to Fight Crime

Police carThe “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018″ will appear on the 2020 ballot, as the failure of some Registrars to timely validate signatures prevented it from qualifying from the 2018 ballot. The initiative will make commonsense changes to fix problems caused by AB 109, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.

While some supporters of changes to the California criminal justice system acknowledge that those changes have been “plagued by a lack of vetting and thorough debate” a very vocal minority, including Governor Jerry Brown, adamantly refuse to acknowledge any faults. Brown vetoes such changes. In other instances, the Legislature simply refuses to consider any changes.

The initiative has and will continue to come under attack by those adamantly opposed to any fixes to Prop. 47, 57 and AB 109. An old legal adage is: “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.” The campaign to oppose the initiative will be a “pound the table” approach, mixed in with some deliberate half-truths designed to mislead the public.

One most recent example of “half-truth” was a recent and deliberately deceptive LA Times editorial, which as written would have readers believe the initiative would drop the limit for felony theft charges to $250 from the current $950. The truth is the initiative does not broadly lower the dollar limit for felony theft. Instead, it applies to the discrete instances where a repeat thief has two or more prior and separate convictions and commits a new theft where the value of the money, labor or personal property taken in the new theft exceeds $250. The change in short, imposes the potential of a felony consequences only for repeat offenders who already have two or more prior convictions.

The LA Times also blithely asserts that “even under current laws, savvy prosecutors can add up the value of stolen goods in order to bring felony charges.” Actually, savvy prosecutors know that published case law such as People v. Hoffman (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 1304 and People v. Salmorin (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 738, prohibit aggregation. Savvy prosecutors know that the Attorney General, in cases such as People v. Chaney (Case No. A147169), People v Wilson (Case No. E063844) and People v. Wallace (Case No. E063760) has conceded on appeal that amounts from separate theft offenses cannot be aggregated. Savvy prosecutors know that prior legislation to allow aggregation of theft amounts, such as AB 2287 (Lackey and Wilk), have failed to pass.

The initiative will also make commonsense changes to parole that will assist law enforcement in the supervision of convicted criminals. The legislature approved similar changes with unanimous bipartisan support in AB 1408. But that legislation was vetoed by the governor.

The initiative will allow Governor Brown to keep his promise to voters that “violent” inmates will not be released early under Prop 57. The initiative allows him to do so by specifying the violent crimes not eligible for release. Dozens of similar attempts by the legislature to do so have failed.

These changes, along with authorizing DNA collection to help solve violent crimes and exonerate the innocent, and reforming theft laws to address serial thieves and organized theft rings, are commonsense fixes.

The ADDA and our allies are happy to debate the substance of the initiative with opponents. We are also equally committed to calling out the table pounding and misleading claims that will be made by those opponents in the months leading to the 2020 election.

resident of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Meet Some Prop. 57 Early Release Inmates

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

We extensively chronicled how the Prop. 57 campaign was sold on the lie that only “non-violent” criminals would be released early from their lawfully imposed state prison terms. The decision on who gets the early release is now in the hands of the Board of Parole, whose release decisions show an appalling disregard of fact and reality. Some examples of these early release decisions are highlighted below.

Paul Karl Anderson — With a criminal history that begins in 1981, and included felony convictions for assault and thefts, Anderson upped the ante in 1995 when he robbed a bank with a weapon and then held a hostage upon being tracked down by federal marshals.  The Board of Parole granted early release from the sentence imposed for his bank robbery/hostage taking because they determined Anderson does not “pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Rodney Hansen — This inmate’s current prison stint results from a conviction for threatening his ex-girlfriend by tossing a knife at her feet, then threatening to kill both himself and her. Prior convictions since 2007 included possession of a firearm and residential burglary. Nonetheless, the Board of Parole found this inmate should be released early because he does not “pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Recole Mitchell — Mitchell was sent to prison for convictions of possession of a loaded firearm in 2016, and threatening to kill his mother in 2015. Despite a lengthy criminal history that begins in 2003 and included two separate convictions for carrying a loaded firearm, the Board of Parole granted Mitchell an early release because they decided Mitchell does not”pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Paul Silvas — Sentenced to prison in 2015 for stabbing the family dog to death, Silvas had a prior history of violence as evidenced by his 2008 conviction for assault with a firearm. While he incurred five disciplinary actions since being sent to prison, the Board of Parole found that Silvas “shows compliance with institutional rules” and released him early on the grounds that he does not”pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

Governor Brown promised the public that only non-violent offenders would be released under Prop. 57. A bank robber/hostage taker, a gun-toting felon who threatened to kill his mother, a knife-wielding felon who threatened to kill his girlfriend, and a dog killer are probably not who the public expected back into their communities. But the public need not fret. After all, the Board of Parole has determined that none of them pose “an unreasonable risk of violence to the community.”

The ADDA has joined crime victims, law enforcement, business owners and public safety leaders working to pass the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018.” We will soon be circulating petitions to put on the ballot the measure that will:

  • Reclassify currently “non-violent” crimes like rape of an unconscious person, sex trafficking of a child under 14, and other serious crimes as “violent” – to prevent the early release of inmates convicted of these crimes
  • Reform the parole system to stop the early release of violent felons, expand parolee oversight, and strengthen penalties for parole violations
  • Reform theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves and organized theft gangs
  • Expand DNA collection to some low level convictions in order to solve violent crimes like rape and murder-and to exonerate those wrongly accused
  • Learn more about “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2018” at www.KeepCaliforniaSafe.org.

resident of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

California Could Free 9,500 Inmates in 4 Years

Corrections officials announced new criminal sentencing rules on Friday that aim to trim California’s prison population by 9,500 inmates after four years.

They include steps like reducing inmates’ sentences up to six months for earning a college degree and by up to a month each year for participating in self-help programs such as alcohol and substance abuse support groups and counseling, anger management, life skills, victim awareness, restorative justice and parenting classes.

Virtually any inmate except those on death row or those serving life-without-parole sentences would be eligible to earn the credits and lower their sentences.

It’s the latest step in a years-long drive to dramatically lower the state’s prison population in response to federal court orders stemming from lawsuits by prison advocates and pressure to turn away from mass incarceration.

The proposed changes follow voters’ approval of Proposition 57 in November. The initiative lets certain felons seek parole more quickly and gave corrections officials broad discretion to grant early release credits. …

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