A Cautionary Tale from the East Coast

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A Cautionary Tale from the East Coast

By Michele Hanisee

As California suffers from a rising property crime rate thanks to Prop 47, prepares for a flood of felons getting an early release from state prison thanks to Prop 57, and contemplates refusing to jail accused criminals before trial, a cautionary tale has emerged from Washington, DC. A four part series in May by the Washington Post exposed the city’s “Youth Rehabilitation Act” and brought to light just how deadly the desire to give convicted criminals a “second chance” can be.

Washington, D.C. enacted the “Youth Rehabilitation Act” in 1985 to protect youths “from the stigma of lengthy prison sentences.” The Youth Act allows convicted offenders under age 22 to avoid either imprisonment or the lengthy sentences called for by mandatory minimums for certain crimes. The Youth Act also allows for the offender’s record to be expunged upon successful completion of the sentence. All crimes are eligible for this treatment, except murder and a second violent crime while armed.

The Post series focused on the period since 2010, when 45% of all offenders in Washington, D.C. received sentences under this Act. The results were horrid. As detailed in the Post, 121 people in Washington, D.C. are now dead, murdered by those sentenced under this Youth Act. Thirty of the offenders were still on Youth Act probation at the time they committed murder.

Given that 73% of those being sentenced under the Act had committed a violent or weapons offense, it was predictable that they would take advantage of the leniency of the Act to commit more crime. More than 136 of the offenders let loose by the law were subsequently convicted of armed robbery, and at least 200 sentenced for a subsequent violent or weapons offense. Not only were “second chances” given, but repeat “second chances” were the norm–at least 750 offenders were sentenced under this act multiple times.

Typical of the offenders are Tavon Pickney, a now 20-year-old offender convicted of murder in 2015. Pickney told the Post that he wasn’t scared when charged with robbery in 2014 because, “I knew they were going to let me off easy.” Indeed, he was given a suspended sentence and probation by a Judge who at sentencing stated she believed “people should have the opportunity to change their lives.” Pickney subsequently admitted to the Post that he had committed at least a dozen robberies before his initial arrest for robbery in 2014.

The mentality of those who excuse criminal behavior for a “second chance” or more is exemplified by Washington, D.C. Judge Anita Josey-Herring. With prosecutor’s agreement, she sentenced Bijon Brown to a six-month suspended sentence in 2015 for shooting at two taggers, wounding one. A scant 29 days later, Brown opened fire on a rival tagger who surrounded[MH1] a bus he was on. Over prosecutors’ objections, Judge Herring sentenced Brown to a year and a day under the Youth Act.

>Nine days after his release, Brown was charged with a carjacking at gunpoint. Per Post reporters, Judge Herring was a mite defensive when Post reporters visited her courtroom. From the bench, “she cast blame on the juvenile victims of the first shooting, saying they had been “terrorizing” the neighborhood. Then she said the Metrobus shooting had looked like “something out of Straight Outta Compton because of the ‘mob’ of men that confronted Brown.”

In California, there has been a rush in California to excuse criminal behavior, whether it be Governor Jerry Brown with his love of “second chances” via Prop 57, or allowing who were under 23 years old when they committed violent crimes resulting in life sentences early parole hearings.

Next up on the horizon are proposals to abolish bail schedules from State Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblyman Rob Bonta. Their source of inspiration is the Washington, D.C. pretrial release system, which releases 91% of arrestees and sees about 11% of those released get rearrested for new crimes. Naturally, when reached for comment on these rearrests, the head of the D.C. pre-trial release system sniffed; “when it comes to human beings, you can’t stop people from making bad decisions.”

No, you can’t stop human beings from making bad decisions. However, you can protect the public by removing them from society via incarceration, thereby depriving them of the opportunity to repeat their bad decisions at the expense of others. As the Washington Post series painfully illustrates, the desire to give those who choose to commit crimes a “second chance” puts the life and property of innocent citizens in danger. California apparently will have to learn that lesson the hard way, just as Washington D.C. has with its “Youth Rehabilitation Act,” which we have written about extensively in previous blogs.<

To read our previous concerns with the bail reform proposals, click here and here.

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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Proposal to free cop killer underscores threat of Prop. 57

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Proposal to free cop killer underscores threat of Prop. 57

By Eric Siddall

The state parole board has again demonstrated the folly of Governor Brown’s radical experiment with public safety– Proposition 57.

Under this initiative, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) would have the ultimate power to release inmates. The sentencing decisions by judges would be disregarded. The legislature’s assign punishment ignored. The plea agreements made between prosecutors and defendants would become meaningless. CDCR alone will decide when felons are released back on the street.

The argument for this shift of power from judges and prosecutors to CDCR is that the parole board is comprised of rational and thoughtful people who would never grant freedom to those who could pose an ongoing threat to society. However, their actions give us little confidence that this is a promise that will be kept.

Most recently, the board for a third time recommended that a brutal cop killer Voltaire Williams be granted freedom. Williams, as you may recall from a number of our previous blogs, played a central role in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams (no relation) in front of his young son.

Due to intense pressure from the ADDA and law enforcement agencies throughout the state, Williams was denied parole two previous times after parole board panels recommended he be freed.

However, the idea that someone who helped orchestrate the assassination of a law enforcement professional should ever be allowed to walk our streets simply defies reason. The parole board decision to grant parole to this killer or to Manson Family killer Leslie Van Houten, is evidence, that the parole board will gleefully distribute get-out-of-jail cards to the worst of the worst.

Disturbingly, with the election just a few days away, Prop. 57 appears to have solid support from state voters. A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey showed 57 percent of likely voters are backing this disaster of an initiative, while only 31 percent opposed it.

Prop. 57 represents a clear danger to public safety. It is imperative that all of us do everything in our power to educate voters about the chaos that passage of this initiative will unleash on every community in California. The challenge is enormous, but we must persevere to the very end.

Eric Siddall is Vice 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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Governor Brown’s Statement in Support of Prop 57 Provide More Reasons to Vote “No!”

By Eric Siddall

Governor Brown is quoted in today’s Los Angeles Times, providing his reasons why voters should support Prop 57, the early release of felons initiative.  Every one of his statements lacks both merit and a basic understanding of the criminal justice system.

First, the governor claims that his act would restore “deliberative thought” to a process driven by district attorneys chasing headlines and seeking re-election with a “quiet parole board” making reasoned parole decisions.

The reality is that very few crimes make it into the newspaper or are featured on TV or radio.  The vast majority of prosecutions result in prison sentences known only to judges, prosecutors, victims, police, and defendants. The cases that capture media attention are ones that involve murder-which carries a mandatory sentence. This “quiet” parole board the governor champions will become an unaccountable Kafkaesque prison release machine so “quiet” that victims won’t even be aware that the felon who victimized them is back in the neighborhood.

Next, the governor claims that if prosecutors are upset that with his listing of crimes eligible for release, that’s their own fault because prosecutors “created the damn violent list.”  False. The problem is not the list. The problem is your “damn amendment.”  The “damn violent list,” as you call it, singles out certain violent crimes for harsher punishment; it didn’t absolve other crimes of their violent nature or lessen their punishments. It was you, Governor Brown, who wrote Prop 57 and decided what crimes should be eligible for early release under its provisions.  We are simply pointing out that your amendment is poorly drafted.

Further, Prop 57 gives state prison officials constitutional authority to invent early release credits for all inmates not serving life without parole or a death sentence.  Governor Brown assured the Times that credits will be limited. How? Not by the state legislature, because it takes that power away from them. Not by judges, because it takes that power away from them. Instead, all credit making power goes to the Department of Corrections. In other words, it goes to the governor. Small comfort since Governor Brown will only be in office for two more years. The truth is the governor’s deliberate failure to include in Prop 57 any restrictions on invention of new sentence credits means there can be no confidence this new power will be used wisely.

The real reason Governor Brown is pushing Prop 57 is because he wants to try something new. He wants to experiment with public safety and see what happens. He wants to turn back the clock to a time where sentences were short, victims had no rights, and the felon was king. We simply cannot afford this radical experiment.

We will continue to fight against Prop 57. Please like and share our video: https://www.laadda.com/no-on-prop-57

Eric Siddall is Vice 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. To contact a Board member, click here.

Rapists, Human Traffickers & Other Violent Criminals to Be Set Free If Prop 57 Passes

By Eric Siddall

As the Sacramento Bee pointed out, “The term ‘nonviolent felony offense’ comes from the language of the governor’s sentencing measure itself. If the measure is approved by voters, it remains to be seen how ‘nonviolent felony’ will be defined.

Governor Brown is spending millions of dollars on false radio adspromoting Prop 57, repeating that it only applies to “non-violent felons.” This claim is an attempt to fool the public into believing inmates who have committed crimes involving violence will not be eligible for the measures’ early parole.

In prior blogs, we have highlighted the multiple crimes of violenceeligible for early parole under Prop 57: including rape of an unconscious person, rape with a foreign object, assault on a peace officer causing injury, assault with a  deadly weapon, and many others.  The Governor has pushed back, citing the Attorney General’s ballot description that it only applies to “non-violent” inmates amongst other defenses.

Turns out, as the italicized quote above highlights, there was absolutelyno analysis by the Attorney General of the type of offenses and inmates eligible for release.  Instead, the Attorney General has acknowledged they only parroted Brown’s description of crimes eligible for early parole under Prop 57.   In short, instead of doing their sworn job the Attorney General’s office played politics.

To set the facts straight, this past opposition law enforcement leaders from throughout Southern California, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell held a news conference to speak out againstProp 57.
The simple and undeniable fact is that Prop 57 makes numerous inmates who have  committed violent crimes eligible to be released years early from their prison sentence.  Any ballot argument or statement by the Governor that says to the contrary is completely false.
Eric Siddall is Vice 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. To contact a Board member, click here.
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Proposition 57 Will Hit Minority Communities the Hardest

By Eric Siddall

We have an incarceration problem in this country. Minority communities bear the brunt of this harsh reality. We need to acknowledge this fact and discuss a smarter, nimbler, and more humane approach to this challenge.

But we also have another problem. Far too many people of color are victims of crime, a fact often overlooked in the current criminal justice debate. We need to acknowledge and address this harsh reality as well.

Prop. 57 presents itself as an answer to this problem, but a closer look at the initiative indicates it will only make things worse for California’s minority communities.
First, a few important statistics. Despite representing 6.5 percent of the state population, blacks comprise 24 percent of its prison population. Male blacks who drop out of high school face a 70 percent chance of going to prison, compared to 17 percent of similarly situated whites. These facts should give us pause and demand reflection.

However, behind these incarceration numbers are numbers that are equally terrible. In the United States in 2015, according to the FBI, more than 50 percent of all murder victims were black, despite the fact that blacks comprise only 12 percent of the US population. 7,039 African-American men and women were the victims of homicide, out of a total 13,455 homicides nationwide. This means blacks suffer a rate of victimization more than four times higher than their representation in the overall population – this is unacceptable.

To be sure, overall homicide rates have dropped substantially since the early 1990s, which is something for which we should be thankful. In 1993, the year before California’s Three-Strikes was enacted, there were 1,944 homicides in Los Angeles County. By 2015, this number had dropped to 649.

Despite this remarkable reduction in the overall rate of homicides, minority communities still face the most significant impact of crime. Today, within a 5-mile radius of the Compton courthouse, there are approximately 118 criminal street gangs. In the past six months, there were 528 violent crimes in Compton per 10,000 residents, including 21 homicides. Fourteen of the 21 homicide victims were black, despite the fact that Compton is 40 percent African-American. Compare this to Brentwood which had a mere 18 violent crimes per 10,000 residents and suffered no homicides.

Frankly, considering these numbers, it might seem easy for the Westside family to vote “yes” on Proposition 57. Crime is not something they experience on a daily basis. They don’t have to take a different route to school in the morning because there is a yellow tape blocking off a crime scene. Crime for that family is an allegory. It is a conversation piece.

For the family in Compton, crime is a daily reality. Every other week, there is a body bag carrying a young male away to the coroner’s office. Every night there is an airship hovering over the city while a pursuit occurs on the ground of a carjacking suspect. If you look at a gang map, almost every inch of Compton is covered by a gang claiming a part of the city. Brentwood doesn’t even have a gang map.

My opposition to Proposition 57 is personal. For the past eight years, I was assigned as a prosecutor in the South Central Judicial District. This is an area that covers Compton and Watts. When I see these numbers, it makes my blood boil, because behind each number is a wounded family and community. Too often, I have sat in my office with a mother and father grieving over their young son. What I find morally reprehensible is that we continue to allow neighborhoods like Compton and Watts to experience huge murder rates while Brentwood is safe and sound.

This is no doubt that we need to take a compressive approach to crime that goes well beyond incarceration. We need to acknowledge that our high incarcerations reflect a societal failure. We need to address the socio-economic issues that underline the many problems of lower income communities.

Proposition 57 does none of the above. Read the one-page summary – the Proposition allows tens of thousands of violent, dangerous and career criminals to be released early.

It disarms us from attacking the criminal element, it releases prisoners back into vulnerable communities, it does nothing to address recidivism, and it breaks the promise we made to victims and witness. Proposition 57 is a well-intentioned disaster that will only lead to more crime, more death, and devastated communities.

Prop 57 – A prescription for disaster

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Give me 2 minutes of your time and this video will explain why you should vote NO on Prop 57.
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Law Enforcement Murders Expose the Bankruptcy of “Criminal Justice Reform”

By Eric Siddall

The recent murder of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sergeant Steve Owens, Palm Springs Police Officers Jose Vega and Lesley Zerebny by career criminals is a bitter tragedy for their families, and a great loss for all of law enforcement and the communities they bravely served.

In the Palm Springs murders, the suspect charged has gang ties and was convicted in a prior shooting. In Los Angeles, Sheriff McDonnell commented that Steve Owens death should start a serious conversation about policies that allowed the gunman to cycle in and out of custody for years.

The recent and proposed changes to our criminal laws, led by Governor Brown, the State Legislature, and via ballot initiatives foisted on the public by pro-criminal “justice reform” groups, have made and will make all Californians less safe. They are the driving reason why California’s violent crime rate increase was more than twice the national average in 2015, and why California suffered near double increases in the property crime rate in 2014 and 2015 while the rest of the nation saw property crime rates decline in both those years.

First, let’s start with the supervision of the violent career criminal charged in the execution murder of Sgt. Owens following his release from prison in 2014 after he served a six-year sentence for armed robbery. According to news reports, we have learned that on three separate occasions in the last two years he was arrested for new crimes, suffered two new criminal convictions, but no parole hold was ever placed on him by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). A September 2015 arrest for driving under the influence resulted in a 28-day jail sentence and probation; an April 2016 arrest that resulted in another sentence of probation and credit for 15 days’ custody, and in July 2016 he was arrested again.

Had the justice system worked properly, this violent criminal would have had his probation revoked for the April 2016 or July 2016 arrest, and this felon would not have been on the street and able to murder Steve Owen. Instead, in what it is clearly an attempt to game statistics and make the recidivism rate for violent ex-felons look lower than it actually is, it appears that parole holds are not be being placed on violent felons when they violate probation by having either new arrests or convictions for new crimes.

What keeps me up at night is that if Prop 57 passes, the people at CDCR are the ones Governor Brown assures us will be carefully screening the tens of thousands of inmates his Prop. 57 makes eligible for early release from prison.

Next, thanks to Prop. 47, the stolen firearm that the career criminal had in his possession was only a misdemeanor offense. The pro-criminal folks behind Prop. 47 reduced the crime of possession of a stolen gun from a felony to a misdemeanor offense; Governor Brown vetoed a bill earlier this year that overwhelmingly passed the state legislature and restored the crime to a felony.

Further, although this career criminal has two prior robbery convictions, Prop. 36 wiped away the potential 25-life sentence, the judge previously had the discretion to impose for being an ex-felon in possession. Passed in 2012, this proposition changed the three strikes law by permitting life sentences only when the current crime is a serious or violent offense. Felon in possession of a gun is not a qualifying offense. Also, AB 109 ensured that if this felon had been sentenced to prison for possessing the gun, a violation of parole upon release would result not result in a return to prison, but instead a short stint in local jail.

If Prop. 62 is approved by the voters in November, the career criminals charged in these recent cold-blooded murders of peace officers will not face the death penalty. Instead, they will at most face a sentence of life in prison without parole. I say at most, because if you read the writings of those who lead the campaign to repeal of the death penalty you know a ballot initiative to eliminate life without parole is next on their agenda. In their view, replacing the death penalty with life without parole removes “one terrible idea only to replace it with another” as in their view “life without parole is as dehumanizing as death itself, and in some ways, it is even worse.” This is one reason why I, like other Deputy District Attorneys, support Proposition 66 – would preserve the death penalty for the most heinous criminals by enacting critically needed reforms to the system.

California ended the crime wave that started in the 1970’s and continued into the early 1990’s with measures such as determinate sentencing and three strikes. Incarcerating for lengthy periods of time felons who had committed violent crimes and had long criminal records led to a remarkable and sustained drop in crime. Proponents of lowering criminal penalties claimed that public safety would be enhanced, but that has been disproved by crime statistics, just as their estimates of “cost savings” through decreased incarceration have not materialized but in fact have in fact been dwarfed by the increased costs to residents and businesses from the rising crime rate.

In years past, Steve Owen’s death in the line of duty by this poster boy of a criminal justice system gone awry would have led to the serious conversation Sheriff McDonnell called for. However, since California is only in the early stages of a crime wave unleashed by these changes, with the proponents still claiming it is “too early” to draw conclusions, I am not optimistic that a serious conversation will occur. Instead, it will take a few more years for the public to accept statistics proving the arguments of the pro-criminal crowd for reduced penalties only led to more crime. Sadly, those statistics will consist of tens of thousands of real people unnecessarily victimized because of foolish experiments on the hardworking residents of California.

Please share this blog on social media.

Eric Siddall is Vice 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. To contact a Board member, click here.