California needs criminal justice reforms to fight crime

By Michele Hanisee

 

The "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.
 

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member, click here.
 

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