Betty Arenson | California’s Watered-Down Crime Laws

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

In 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California prisoners’ Eighth Amendment rights were violated due to overcrowding. Gov. Jerry Brown’s reaction brought about Proposition 47, the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative in November 2014.

It reclassified “non-serious, nonviolent crimes” from felonies to misdemeanors “unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes.” It also allowed re-sentencing for current inmates serving for any of the reduced crimes.

The proposition was sold with the typical promises from Sacramento’s majority, like diminishing excessive punishment of many crimes and big money savings. A Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund was created, promising 25 percent of the savings going to education, 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction and a paltry 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. With that, 59.61 percent of 7.1 million voters made Proposition 47 law.

The crimes that can be committed and deemed misdemeanors share the main feature; each crime’s value is capped at $950. They include shoplifting, grand theft, receiving stolen property, forgery of a check, bond or bill; fraud with a check, draft or order; writing a bad check and lastly “personal use of most illegal drugs.”

A notice in January 2015 stated that parole eligibility would affect one million Californians with the chance to change prior felony convictions to misdemeanors.

Ballotpedia reported Brown’s “proposed” budget reductions, considering fewer prisoners. Naturally, counties experienced a reduction of jail beds and, in particular, Orange County benefitted when the federal government paid rent to it for using their vacant beds for immigration detainees.

Proposition 57 (the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016) became law November 2016, passing with 64.46 percent of the 13.6 million votes cast. It “increased” opportunities for felons convicted of “non-violent” crimes and allows them to earn credits for good behavior. Additionally, judges, not prosecutors, will decide if some juveniles are tried as adults. Brown also signed a statement specifying the same early release applies to registered sex offenders.

A long list of celebrities, Mark Zuckerberg and the California Democratic Party support Proposition 57.

The L.A. Association of Deputy District Attorneys website gives Proposition 57’s “Direct Results,” including:

The same release conditions apply to offenders who have committed multiple crimes against multiple victims as one with a single crime against one victim. Repeat offenders’ eligibility matches that of first-time offenders. Offenders with enhanced sentences due to egregious conduct are as eligible as the non-egregious criminal.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has unlimited authority to award credits to all inmates, in excess of previous conduct credit limitations of 15-50 percent.

Juveniles committing violent crimes of murder, rape and carjacking cannot be prosecuted as adults. The filings will be in juvenile court where only a judge can deem them unfit.                   

The Legislative Analyst Office notes there is no definition of “non-violent” felonies cited in the California Penal Code or in Proposition 57. “Any offense that is not among the 23 designated as ‘violent’ in Section 667.5(c) of the state penal code is regarded as ‘nonviolent.’”

According to the L.A. Association of Deputy District Attorneys, some of the present non-violent crimes are:

Assault with a deadly weapon and force likely;

Solicitation to commit murder;

Domestic violence;

Arson of forest land causing physical injury;

Exploding destructive device with intent to cause injury;

First degree burglary;

Battery with serious bodily injury;

Rape/sodomy/oral copulation of an unconscious person

Rape/sodomy/oral copulation of an intoxicated person

First degree burglary when no one is present;

Inflicting corporal injury on a child;

Human trafficking involving a minor;

Assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer;

Active participation in a street gang;

I was unable to clarify the classification of such crimes as discharging a firearm on school grounds; drive-by shooting; false imprisonment of an elder through violence; criminal threats; hate crime causing physical injury; failing to register as a sex offender; supplying a firearm to a gang member; attempted robbery/kidnapping/carjacking and stalking.

Proposition 57 stands irrespective of conflicts with already existing laws:

Proposition 184 — Three Strikes Law;

Proposition 35 — Human Trafficking;

Penal Code Section 186.20 et seq. — Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act;

Proposition 8 (1982) — The Victim’s Bill of Rights;

Proposition 9 (2008) — Marcy’s Law (Cal. Const. Art.1 Section 2B).

Such tomfoolery makes our reported crime statistics worthless. How can we be safe if California’s government mandates crimes are not really crimes?

Betty Arenson is a Valencia resident. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among several local Republicans.

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