By Michele Hanisee
As prosecutors who see how changes in the law actually play out in the justice system, we strongly support Proposition 20 which appears on the November ballot. Prop 20 will make reasonable changes to fix some of the unintended consequences caused by Props 47 and 57 and AB 109 to make them comport with what voters were told they were voting for.
Early Release for Violent Crimes
When voters enacted Prop 57, they were told it provided early release for “non-violent offenders.” Unfortunately, due to the way Prop 57 was written, the following crimes are considered “non-violent.”
Solicitation to commit murder;
Kidnapping a child to sell them as a sex slave;
Assaulting and injuring a transgender or homosexual person as a hate crime;
Shooting at or stabbing a firefighter;
Bombing a church or mosque;
Rape of a developmentally disabled person;
Rape of a person by use of drugs;
Throwing battery acid in someone’s face;
Abuse of a child under age 8 by a caretaker that could cause great bodily injury or death;
Shooting at someone with a gun;
Trying to stab a person with a knife;
Severely Beating an elderly or dependent adult;
Shooting at an inhabited home;
Domestic violence causing injury.
Proposition 20 would define these violent crimes as “violent,” thus making those who commit them ineligible for early release. Prop 20 does not make the sentences for these violent crimes any longer. It does not even change the fact that people convicted of these crimes will only have to serve about half of their sentence. It just says they are not eligible to be released extra-early.
Prop 20 also gives victims reasonable notice of inmates’ release and the right to submit a confidential statement to the Board of Parole Hearings.
Prop 47 made all thefts under $950 a misdemeanor no matter how many times a person is convicted of stealing. This contributed to an explosion of theft and billions of dollars in losses to retailers, large and small, who then passed the cost on to consumers. Prop 20 would allow a third time offender to be punished either as a misdemeanor or as the lowest-level of felony. It would also allow prosecutors to charge a felony if the total value of multiple thefts by a serial thief or and organized theft rings was over $950.
Prop 20 would also allow auto theft, theft of a firearm, credit/debit card fraud, identity theft and embezzlement to be charged as the lowest-level of felony.
Prop 20 would require that a parolee who violates the terms of his parole for a third time be brought before to court for a judge to determine whether parole should be revoked.
It also requires the Board of Parole Hearings to consider an inmate’s entire criminal history when deciding parole, not just his most recent commitment offense.
Prop 20 reinstates DNA collection for certain crimes that were reduced to misdemeanors as part of Proposition 47. Multiple studies have shown that DNA collected from theft and drug crimes solve violent crimes, including robbery, rape, and murder.
In the face of such reasonable adjustments to the law, opponents of Prop 20 have resorted to telling bald-faced lies about Prop 20 to try to defeat it. Their TV ads claim Prop 20 is a “prison spending scam” supported by “police unions and prisons” What they won’t tell you is that Prop 20 is supported by crime victims and by California grocers and retailers groups whose businesses have been devasted by rising theft. The opponents claim that Prop 20 will reduce rehabilitation programs. In fact, Prop 20 keeps in place all existing rehabilitation programs. The most duplicitous claim is that Prop 20 will “reduce funding to mental health programs, schools, homeless services and programs to help victims.” There is absolutely no language in Prop 20 that would change funding for any other program. The opponents’ logic, apparently, is that any state program that might cost money must necessarily take money from another state program. According to that logic, Prop 20 will reduce funding for the bullet train, and from state programs to protect endangered whales and sea turtles.
What opponents of Prop 20 don’t want you to know is that when they submitted these same arguments to be printed in the official ballot material, they got sued for making false and misleading claims. Rather than lose in court, they agreed to withdraw their false claims. But now they are making the same false and misleading claims on television.
If there is one thing voters should know about Prop 20, it is that it adjusts these laws to give the voters what they were told they were voting for without resulting in any new prison sentences.
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.