California Supreme Court ruling limits harmful effects of Prop. 47

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California Supreme Court ruling limits harmful effects of Prop. 47

By Michele Hanisee

Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature steadfastly refuse to address even the most egregious flaws in their beloved soft-on-crime initiative, Proposition 47. But despite their obstinacy, a droplet of positive news has trickled out of Sacramento.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that judges have wide discretion to refuse to shorten the sentences of third-strike inmates.

Two third-strike inmates in a lawsuit argued that the initiative limited judges’ authority in this matter. They had claimed that a “safety-risk” definition in the initiative allowed judges to deny sentence reductions only to inmates who likely would commit crimes if released.

Not so, the Supreme Court ruled.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said none of the Prop. 47 ballot materials suggested it would apply to third-strikers. Moreover, if the safety-risk definition had applied to third-strikers, it would “result in the release of more recidivist and/or violent offenders than had been contemplated” under an earlier initiative, Proposition 36, she wrote.

Prop. 36, which passed in 2012, allowed third-strike inmates whose last strike wasn’t violent or serious to apply for sentence reductions. Prop. 47, which voters passed in 2014, reduced a host of felonies to misdemeanors and has been widely cited as a contributing factor to the recent rise in statewide crime.

The Supreme Court ruling is clearly a victory for justice and for public safety. For a few moments, we should sit back and celebrate the Court’s common-sense decision.

But, in the vast landscape of devastation that Prop. 47 has wrought, it’s a small victory. Reversing the damage that Prop. 47 has inflicted remains a steep uphill battle.

Common sense bills to address Prop. 47’s most blatantly egregious gun-related flaws – introduced in the State Assembly by Marc Steinorth, Jim Patterson and the bipartisan trio of Melissa Melendez, Jim Cooper and Adam Gray – either died in committee or were vetoed by Gov. Brown.

But, for the sake of all law-abiding Californians, we cannot give up the fight. We must continue to vigorously advocate for, and support, all future efforts to fix Prop. 47.

Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.
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