By Eric Siddall 

Two events this past week sharpened the focus on why Proposition 57, Governor Brown’s initiative to release early tens of thousands of state inmates, is a dangerous experiment that should be rejected by voters.

The first was news that crime is continuing to rise in Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles for a second straight year.  As reported by the Los Angeles Times, this rise in crime “continues last year’s trend across California. Statewide, violent offenses jumped 10% and property offenses 8% compared…”  We have written about this rise in the crime rate since the passage of Proposition 47, including the fact that California’s property crime rate has risen while in the next five biggest states the property crime rate has dropped.  Proposition 47, AB 109, and re-alignment-all early release experiments-have led to flood of convicted felons on our streets.

The second piece of news was the denial of parole to Manson family killer Leslie Van Houten.  We strongly opposed a release  approved by two members of the  Board of Parole, and are glad Governor Brown overturned the parole board and blocked her release. This is not the first time these unelected bureaucrats made the wrong call with the governor reversing. This happened with the murderer of a San Diego Police Officer Archie Buggs.  In another case, a felon convicted of conspiring to kill Los Angeles Police Detective Thomas Williams was granted parole and only after the governor ordered the parole board to reconsider was the parole grant rescinded.

These two pieces of news relate to each other because Proposition 57 will allow the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) staff to invent new sentence credits to ensure state prisoners are granted early. In addition, these same bureaucrats who want to grant early release for cop killers, will now have constitutional authority to grant early release by allowing inmates to avoid serving time imposed by judges for sentence enhancements. This constitutional mandate will make the governor, the legislature, the courts, and prosecutors powerless to stop or reverse their decisions. Proposition means this: No checks. No balances. CDCR and the parole board will have absolute power when it comes to the early release of murders and rapist.

Proposition 57 will simply pour an accelerant on the crime rate increase in California.  It is an insult to crime victims, an undeserved gift to convicted criminals, dangerous to citizens everywhere-and must be defeated.

To read related blogs, please see (1) Those Who Care About Victims of Sex Crimes Should Oppose Gov. Brown’s Initiative (2) Stanford Sexual Assault Case Typifies California’s New Approach to Criminals (3)Governor’s spokesperson confirms his initiative will allow early release of violent inmates (4)  Gov. Brown: Longing for the 70’s (5) Governor Brown’s Power Grab (6) The truth will defeat an oft-repeated lie (7) Low-income communities will be devastated by felon-freeing fiasco (8) L.A. Gangs Will Love Governor’s Ballot Initiative (9) Felon-freeing initiative advances (10) A Radically Dangerous Experiment with Public Safety and (11) Wait in Line Governor

By Michele Hanisee

The Senate Public Safety Committee recently passed AB 2888 in response to the outrage in California and across the country over the probation sentence given to Stanford swimmer Brock Turner for his sexual assault of an unconscious woman.

AB 2888 would make prison mandatory for anyone convicted of eight specific sexual assault crimes, with most of those changes affecting sex crimes involving alcohol and any other “intoxicating or anesthetic substance.”  However, this legislation (which I suggested in a recent blog) will be drastically undercut should Governor Brown’s initiative, providing for early release of sex offenders and other violent felons, pass this November.

The reaction to the Brock Turner sentence reflects the thinking of most people that sex offenses are degrading crimes that must be punished by meaningful incarceration.  Even those considered liberal on crime and punishment such as State Senator Mark Leno weighed in to support the bill, with Leno referring to the sex crimes covered by the bill as “despicable crimes.”  I say most, because predictably the ACLU was opposed, claiming mandatory prison sentences punish communities of color.  No doubt sex offenders were grateful for the undying support of the ACLU.

However, this well intentioned bill and all other current laws punishing sex offenses are about to be drastically undercut by Governor Brown’s initiative.  These include laws punishing sex crimes such as rape of an unconscious person, rape by use of an intoxicating substance, or rape where the victim was legally incapable of giving consent.  Likewise,Penal Code Section 667.6, subdivision (c), permitting the imposition of a full, separate, and consecutive term for each violation of certain sex offenses and subdivision (d), permitting the imposition of a full, separate and consecutive term for additional crimes involving different victims or the same victim on a separate occasion, will be gutted by Governor Brown’s initiative.

How are these sex crimes law eviscerated?  As the California District Attorneys Association analysis explains, Governor Brown’s initiative rewards prison inmates by allowing them to only serve the term for one count for which they were convicted (their “primary offense.”)  Any additional time they were sentenced to by a judge, be it a consecutive sentence as in Penal Code section 667.6 or an enhancement for harm done or loss caused, can be ignored and the inmate paroled. Thus inmates convicted of sex assaults against multiple victims will only have to serve the same amount of time as inmates who committed one sexual assault against one victim.

Other laws affecting sexual offenses, such as those aimed at human trafficking, are likewise gutted. Governor Brown’s initiative allows for consecutive sentences for multiple victims of a human trafficker to be disregarded.  In addition, the initiative allows for increased “conduct credits” for all inmates, including those convicted of human trafficking, thereby providing these inmates an earlier release from prison.

Governor Brown’s initiative devalues victims of sex offenses by allowing inmates to escape increased prison sentences imposed for multiple offenses or multiple victims.  Those who believe every sex assault victim deserves a measure of justice by having the person who assaulted them serve time in state prison should oppose Governor Brown’s initiative.

Likewise, those who believe every victim of human trafficking deserves individual justice, and that the person trafficked should serve time for every person they put into sex slavery, should oppose Governor Brown’s initiative.   As I perused the list of the legislators who  supported AB 2888 and their reasons why, I wondered how many of them will be opposing Governor Brown’s initiative?

 

By Michele Hanisee

Several pieces in the Los Angeles Times regarding prisoners, mental health, and TV shows portraying same caught my eye, and frankly, require a response.  It is clear that a false narrative is developing of state prisons packed with non-violent offenders.  Baloney.

It’s important that any discussion be guided by facts, not anecdotes or singular cases. First, a little statistical analysis courtesy of the California Department of Corrections is in order.  California’s most current “Prison Census Data” ending December 31, 2013, tells a revealing story about the 128,211 male and 6,128 female inmates serving time in state prison.  More than 70% of the total inmate population is serving time for “Crimes Against Persons.”  What are “Crimes Against Persons” as defined by the report: “Murder, Manslaughter, Robbery, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assault/Battery, Lewd Acts with a Child, Oral Copulation, Sodomy, Penetration with a Foreign Object, ‘Other Sex Offenses’, and Kidnapping.”

But wait, what about those “non-violent offenders” and “drug offenders” filling our prisons?  Well, 6% of inmates were convicted of the “non- violent” offense of residential burglary,less than one percent are in for all other “property crimes.”  Those in for “non-violent” drug offenses include inmates convicted of possessing, selling or manufacturing drugs, and they represent just more than 8% of the prison population.  The oft-touted “inmate in for marijuana,” that is the person serving time for marijuana sales, represented .03% of the inmate population; those for possession of marijuana a whopping 0.0%.

I detail those statistics above to remind those who opine on the criminal justice system that the inmates represent real people who have suffered.  No, not the inmate, their victims. The victims who did not make a decision, as did the 70% of prison inmates, to engage in a violent crime. They, instead, were subjected to the awful trauma inflicted on them by the inmates. The resources provided by the State to these victims is a mere band-aid – basic burial expenses or a few sessions of counseling, at best. They are not glorified in TV shows or “documentaries” to lament their plight.  Instead, victims get to make an appearance at a preliminary hearing and trial, to relive their trauma under often hostile questioning from a defense attorney, are allowed to make a victim impact statement at sentencing. They are then promptly forgotten by a system that pours its resources into incarcerating and “rehabilitating” their victimizer.

There is an escalating mantra, exemplified by Meredith Blake, an entertainment reporter for the Los Angeles Times, of a growing awareness of “mass incarceration…and its disproportionate effects on communities of color.” That liberal hyperbole places the victimizer ahead of the victim.  Don’t the citizens of the “communities of color” deserve protection from those 70% of inmates who committed murders, sexual assaults, kidnappings and other violent crimes? Take Chicago, which has suffered 303 homicides in 2016 with 75% of victims Black and 19% Hispanic.  Is there an acceptable level of victimization in a particular community before we can begin incarcerating those who committed the crimes?

Likewise, the growing claim that prisons are just populated by low level, non-violent offenders who would probably provide amusing anecdotes at a cocktail party deserves a bit more scrutiny. Let’s be very clear – I am not averse to actress Laverne Cox’s statement that her show Orange is the New Black has sparked a conversation “that really is about humanizing people who are incarcerated.”  What I object to is falsely representing the type of crimes that have led to incarceration, and most particularly, the obsessive focus on those who have chosen to victimize others and the abject indifference to the real pain and suffering of their victims.

By Eric Siddall

Governor Brown’s “early release” initiative is nothing more than a power grab on the part of the executive to take away power from judges, the legislature, and local prosecutors while centralizing power in the office of the governor. It undermines separation of powers and the authority of judges.

After a conviction, judges decide the sentences of defendants. They use various factors in determining the appropriate punishment, including sentencing guidelines that consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances. They consider the entire criminal history of the defendant. Only after this examination is complete, does a judge then elect the sentence that can range from probation to state prison.

Yet the governor wants to undo a judge’s authority to sentence. He wants parole boards to decide the actual sentence a convict will serve. He does this by radically expanding the power of the parole board to disregard the sentence handed down by a judge. He gives parole boards and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) unlimited constitutional authority to release criminals.

Judges will no longer determine the length of a convict’s prison sentence. Instead, unelected, unmonitored bureaucrats will now decide how long a convicted felon will serve in state prison. Unlike a sentencing judge, these bureaucrats did not hear the trial testimony, they are divorced from the impact these criminals have on neighborhoods, and they are unanswerable to the people. They make their decisions in a sterile environment with an eye at husbanding their agency’s resources.

The governor’s kafkaesque initiative reeks of disingenuous platitudes and shows an ignorance of basic civics. He says he wants judges to decide if a minor gets charged in adult court. He also wants to undermine the power of judges to sentence. Here is the problem. The decision to file is a function of the executive branch, in this case the district attorney’s office. The decision to sentence is a function of the judiciary, in this case the trial judge.

Here is what the initiative really does: It creates an impossible standard so that minors will never enter an adult court no matter how heinous the crime. So in reality judges do not make the call on whether a minor goes to adult court. Meanwhile, it creates the illusion that judges retain the power to sentence, but in reality the parole board and CDCR will really make the call on how long a convict serves in prison.

In effect, the initiative is a power grab by the governor that eviscerates the power of judges, local prosecutors, and the state legislature. All this from the governor who brought us Rose Bird.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles deputy district attorneys in collective bargaining. Email: esiddall@laadda.com.

By Eric Siddall

There is a saying that if you tell a big lie and repeat it often, people may come to believe it.  Sadly, this is the path Governor Brown took to gin up support for his early release ballot initiative.

What’s the lie?  He claims his proposed initiative will only lead to the early release of “nonviolent prison inmates“. This falsehood was repeated by the governor in a recent e-mail to supporters. In it, he stressed that this initiative does not apply to violent criminals.

The truth?  Los Angeles Times reporter Paige St. John, who covers criminal justice and investigative stories for the Times, pointed out what the initiative would really do. She wrote, “In practice, the initiative essentially would undo many of the sentencing enhancements added to the penal code by state lawmakers and ballot measures, such as the Three Strikes law, approved by voters.”

We have detailed in past blogs that this initiative gives unfettered power to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to grant early release to all state prisoners. (See Below) The governor knows better than to continue to repeat this falsehood that it only applies to “nonviolent” inmates.  But he also knows propaganda. He knows that Californians will reject the initiative if they know the truth — that it will cause early release for violent felons.

The governor claims this initiative is needed because federal judges will take over the state prisons and release prisoners. Yet, California is currently in compliance with the federal court order. Governor Brown already released 50,000 prisoners to get into compliance. So this too is a verifiable falsehood.

The truth is Brown’s early release initiative will devastate public safety. It will end nearly three decades of successful law enforcement practices. It will end “Three Strikes” as we know it. And, yes, it will mean all state prisoners, even the violent ones, will get early release.

To read previous blogs regarding the early release initiative, please see (1) Low-income communities will be devastated by felon-freeing fiasco(2) L.A. Gangs Will Love Governor’s Ballot Initiative (3) Felon-freeing initiative advances (4) A Radically Dangerous Experiment with Public Safety (5) Wait in Line Governor (6) The Myth of the Nonviolent Drug Offender.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at esiddall@laadda.com.  The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

By Michele Hanisee

As prosecutors whose job is to pursue felony criminal cases, we would enthusiastically support any proposed law that promised to be a realistic tool against gun violence.  Sadly, the “Safety for All Act of 2016” is not one of those laws. Indeed, the ballot initiative would harm law-abiding gun owners while actually encouraging criminal activity.

The initiative pushed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would, among other things, make it harder to obtain ammunition and guns, and completely outlaw the possession of large-capacity magazines. At first blush this might seem reasonable, but it ignores one critical reality: in the decade I have spent prosecuting gang murders, I have never encountered a case where the weapon was registered to the shooter.

California already has the nation’s most restrictive gun laws.  Prior measures to rein in gun violence – such as gun registration requirements – have accomplished nothing.  Similarly, this initiative would do nothing to stop criminals from acquiring ammunition, guns or large-capacity magazines.  It would, however, make it prohibitively difficult for responsible gun owners to obtain ammunition for sport and home defense. Worse still, it would actually incentivize criminals to commit residential burglaries and armed robberies of gun stores to obtain ammunition.

In addition to exposing law-abiding citizens to more crime, the initiative would make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. A hobbyist who doesn’t use all the ammunition legally purchased at a shooting range would be subject to arrest for taking any of that ammunition home. That same person would be committing a crime by purchasing ammunition in bulk at the range and accepting reimbursement from friends for the amount they used.

The Safety for All Act might have a catchy name and generate useful sound bites for politicians, but it is horrible public policy. Please join me in opposing this misguided initiative by writing to:

“The Safety for All” Newsom Ballot Measure Committee

c/o Thomas A. Willis

Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, LLP

1127 Eleventh Street, Suite 602

Sacramento, CA 95914

You can also email Mr. Willis at twillis@rjp.com

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

By Eric Siddall

Gov. Jerry Brown’s woefully misguided bid to free thousands of dangerous felons from state prisons would slam low-income, minority neighborhoods that are already battered by disproportionally high crime rates.

Under Brown’s dangerous initiative, felons would be eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of the sentence for their primary offense – regardless of any enhancements that had been added onto the sentence, and regardless of previous strikes for brutal crimes such as rape and murder.

These hardened criminals would not be paroled to wealthy communities. Rather, they would be unleashed on poor, primarily minority neighborhoods where they previously preyed upon the hard-working residents.

There is compelling statistical evidence to support this assertion.

While crime has surged throughout most of Los Angeles during the past year, it has decreased in West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, which are home to most of the city’s wealthiest communities. A growing number of experts believe the crime increase is due in no small part to Proposition 47, a 2014 voter-approved initiative that turned a host of serious felonies into misdemeanors, resulting in the early release of thousands of felons.

We can see that granting early release to dangerous criminals has already increased crime in lower-income areas. Brown’s initiative would further hammer these battered communities.

We are by no means suggesting this is an intentional aim of the people who are trying to qualify the felon-freeing initiative for the November ballot. What we are saying is that this is atrocious public policy, and that it’s imperative that those promoting it take a step back and consider the law of unintended consequences.

Brown has admitted that the impetus for his ill-advised initiative is to reduce prison overcrowding. To accomplish this, he wants to release dangerous prisoners who, when freed, would commit more crimes that would land them in prison once again. This pretzel-logic does not make sense anywhere except, apparently, in the state Capitol.

The initiative inched closer to reality earlier this month when the California Supreme Court authorized Brown and his allies to start gathering signatures to qualify it for the ballot. In doing so, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye stayed a lower court ruling that had halted Brown’s measure after the California District Attorneys Association sued to block it.

It would be wise for us to assume a worst-case scenario will come to pass and the initiative will qualify. Accordingly, we must – starting now – leverage every resource we have to defeat it in November. We cannot allow some of our most vulnerable residents to continue to bear the impact of misguided, opportunistic public policies.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at esiddall@laadda.com.  The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

 

By Eric Siddall

As we have commented in previous blogs, Governor Brown is proposing a radical experiment for public safety. He engineered a ballot initiative that will — contrary to his claims — place violent felons back on the streets. The Brown Early Release initiative is even more troubling in light of statistics released last week which show that violent crime is up 12.7% in the City of Los Angeles for 2016.

Gang-related crimes are skyrocketing.  Look at the numbers for LA City alone: Last weekend 10 of 12 shootings were gang related; this year, 24 of the 48 homicides were gang related. Most importantly, the rise in violent crime was isolated to gang infested neighborhoods.

What does the Brown Early Release initiative have to do with the gang violence in Los Angeles? Everything.  It guts the gang sentencing enhancements. It guts the Three Strikes law. It guts other anti-recidivist measures.  A gang member who commits an assault with a knife for his gang, who had a prior strike, and is sentenced by a judge to 14 years in state prison would normally be released by the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) after 11 years.  Under Brown’s Early Release initiative, he would get released after 2 years.

Brown’s radical experiment will result in a flood of seasoned gang members being released back into their street ranks. This will mean more crime in gang infested neighborhoods. It will mean more drive-by shootings. It will mean more murders.

The recent spike is troubling. Yet, this spike will turn into a full-blown hurricane if the Brown Early Release initiative gets passed.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at esiddall@laadda.com.  The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.

By ADDA Board of Directors

Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid to flood California communities with dangerous felons after they have served only a fraction of their prison sentences has inched closer to reality.

The California Supreme Court on Friday authorized Brown and his allies to start gathering signatures for a November ballot initiative that would offer early release to certain inmates, including those who had prior convictions for violent felonies. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye stayed a lower court ruling that had halted Brown’s measure after the California District Attorneys Association sued to block it.

Under Brown’s dangerous initiative, a prisoner would be eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of the sentence for his primary offense – regardless of any enhancements that had been added onto the sentence and regardless of previous strikes for heinous crimes such as rape and murder.

The initiative would deal a devastating double blow to public safety. By basing parole eligibility on the primary offense only, it would eliminate prosecutors’ ability to use sentencing enhancements to secure plea bargains. More disturbingly, it would further gut California’s voter-approved and highly successful three strikes law. A criminal could have three, four, even ten strikes and still be eligible for a parole hearing after serving just half his time for the primary offense.

Gov. Brown has admitted that the impetus for his ill-advised initiative is to reduce prison overcrowding. To accomplish this, he wants to release dangerous prisoners who very likely would commit more crimes that would land them in prison once again. Apparently this is what passes for logic these days in the state Capitol.

Brown cannot claim complete victory yet. Friday’s ruling was a temporary stay; the full Supreme Court is scheduled to review the lower court’s ruling this week.

Of course, Brown has appointed three of those Supreme Court justices. If the Court green-lights his initiative, the ADDA will leverage every resource we have to defeat it at the ballot box in November. We simply cannot allow state voters to be hoodwinked by the misleading arguments that Brown and his supporters will bombard them with.

Brown’s felon-freeing initiative would be bad enough if it were the only threat to public safety that California residents face. Combined with other obscenities such as Prop. 47 and attacks on the state’s cash bail system, it would be devastating.

The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) is the collective bargaining agent and represents nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles. To contact a Board member,click here.

By Eric Siddall

Governor Brown has proposed a radical experiment with public safety.  It will mean the early release of 40,000 prisoners. It will potentially give the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) unlimited power to grant early release for the remaining 80,000 prisoners, including those who committed murder, rape, and child molestation. This constitutional amendment will overturn four decades of carefully crafted sentencing laws, including 40 laws and 6 voter approved ballot initiatives. It will make it virtually impossible to prosecute juvenile murderers and rapists as adults.

The consequences of this initiative are far reaching.  Today, our article will focus on how the initiative seeks to reduce the prison sentences of all prisoners, not just “non-violent” offenders.

First, a general overview: The purpose of incarceration is three-fold; 1) to protect society; 2) to punish; and 3) to rehabilitate. Today, there are about 117,000 felons in California prisons. They are there because they committed violent and serious offenses against the public. They were all placed in prison by judges who examined the full record. The current state prison population represents the worst offenders in California. No one in state prison is there because of drug possession or minor theft related crime.  Recognizing these facts, Governor Brown deliberately attempted to mislead the public by entitling his initiative the “Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016” — because who would vote for a proposition entitled, “Early Release for Felons, including murderers, rapists, and gang members”?

The mechanics of this constitutional amendment are simple. Prisoners will now be released based upon their primary offense, ignoring the original sentence handed down by a judge. It disregards sentencing enhancements and criminal history. This means if a crime was gang motivated, the additional sentencing enhancement will be meaningless. If the prisoner has an extensive criminal history, including violent strikes, he will be eligible for parole at the same time as the first time offender.

The initiative is a full-frontal assault on enhancements and anti-recidivist statutes. Besides ignoring enhancements and criminal history, when the parole date is reached, the parole commission will be given unchallengeable authority to immediately release the prisoner.

In addition, early release of all prisoners is enabled by this legislation.  The governor claims his initiative only applies to “non-violent” prisoners. This soothing claim that early release is limited to “non-violent” offenders is deliberately misleading.  The initiative allows CDCR to award unlimited additional conduct credits to shorten sentences of all state prisoners, not just those imprisoned for a “non-violent offense.”

In short, this initiative seeks to reduce prison sentences for all state prisoners, no matter their crime or their criminal history.  It ignores the harm those prisoners have done to their victims, disregards the use of guns in commission of a crime, and dismisses the motivation for a crime — all in a headlong rush to speed the release of dangerous criminals.

Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.  He can be contacted at esiddall@laadda.com.  The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.