Proposition 47 has passed! What does this mean now for prisoners?

Back in October, as some of our more frequent readers here in Dublin may remember, we discussed in a post the pros and cons of Proposition 47, a bill that, if passed, would change how the law classified certain nonviolent crimes and how prosecutors and the courts were allowed to handle sentencing in the event of a conviction.

As many of you may have gathered from the post, no matter how Californians would have voted, Proposition 47 was going to have a huge impact on prisoners who have already been condemned by the criminal justice system. Now that the measure has passed as of last month, we are seeing just how much of an impact it has had.

Even before the measure passed, many counties across the state delayed court proceedings for a number of cases whose outcomes relied heavily on whether the measure passed or not.  For many people, holding out on prosecution paid off, cutting down on the amount of time spent in court and mitigating the need for a potential appeal down the road.

Take for example a drug crimes case out of Los Angeles County which resulted in a rather short sentence for one man who was “released from custody with no further jail time.”  What were once felony charges for possession of methamphetamine and heroin were downgraded to misdemeanor charges, effectively negating a potential sentence of more than a year in prison that the man could have faced had voters not approved Proposition 47.

California is currently the first and only state to have approved a measure that downgrades nonviolent drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  But it’s not just the cases that had yet to be decided on that were affected by the measure, as has been noted by several news sources.  The measure is being allowed retroactively, meaning crimes that now fall under the new legislation are eligible for appeal.  

Even though many legal offices and jails began preparing for the influx of appealable cases before the measure passed on November 4, many knew that it was going to take more than a month to reconcile the large number of cases Proposition 47 made eligible for appeal.  Now, exactly one month later, it’s still unknown how many cases have been resolved or how many prisoners have been released because of the change to the law.

Source:  The Los Angeles Times, “Prop. 47 jolts landscape of California justice system,” Paige St. John and Marisa Gerber, Nov. 5, 2014

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