Since voters approved Proposition 47 this month, a steady stream of defendants have sought a reduction in drug-related and other nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors with prosecutors bracing for about 4,000 cases in Orange County alone.
On Thursday, another large group of defendants will seek relief, coincidentally, in Dept. 47 of the Central Justice Center.
Proposition 47 lowers the classification of most nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, some sex offenses or gun crimes. Defendants who have already been sentenced can petition the court for a do-over under the new law.
Prosecutors are warning that some hardened criminals have already taken advantage of the new law. Defense attorneys argue that the proposition is offering a second chance to drug addicts while also helping to alleviate jail and prison overcrowding.
“Our resources are being stretched” because of the flood of new legal action spurred by Proposition 47, according to Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
“This is one of the worst things that has ever happened to public safety,” Schroeder added.
Schroeder pointed to the case of Steven Delgado, a four-striker, whose took advantage of the new law Nov. 12 for his most recent case of possession of methamphetamine.
Delgado was convicted of murder in 1990, but the conviction was overturned on appeal and in 2000 struck a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter instead, Schroeder said. Delgado was sentenced to 11 years in prison and was back in trouble with the law again in 2004 when he pleaded guilty to felony assault with great bodily injury as well as criminal threats and domestic violence, Schroeder said. For that, he was sentenced to a dozen years in prison.
Thanks to Proposition 47, Delgado was able to plead guilty to a misdemeanor for his current charge of methamphetamine possession, and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years of formal probation, Schroeder said.
Attorney Kate Corrigan, a former prosecutor who recently completed a third term as president of the Orange County Criminal Defense Bar Association, said the District Attorney’s Office is exaggerating the risk.
“The DA’s office is going to use the scare tactic of the big, bad wolf is going to get out of jail when in fact the majority of the people getting released or who are deserving of release from Prop. 47 are low-level users, addicts saddled with felony convictions, many of whom become successful in future lives, but are still saddled with these convictions,” Corrigan said.
A felony conviction can affect someone’s right to vote, their ability to rent an apartment, get school loans or obtain a job, Corrigan said.
Corrigan got one client who had four pending cases to plead down to misdemeanors on Tuesday. The defendant was ordered to go to rehab and was given credit for time served in jail
Corrigan said many of her clients who kick the drug habit with the help of court-ordered rehab often call or write her in later years saying they have put their lives back together.
“They become people who instead of being disenfranchised become part of the solution,” Corrigan said.
— City News Service