The day after California passed Proposition 47 – reducing penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes -left city employees scrambling to figure out just how to enforce the new law. Police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and even some advocates wondered just how to go about enforcing the newly reduced punishments.
Felonies Now Misdemeanors
“They were felonies yesterday. They’re misdemeanors today,” said Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown. “This is the law now.” According to experts, the greatest effect would be in the drug possession cases, which has downgraded cases that would have been felonies to misdemeanors. This reduction means thousands of felons have been eligible for immediate release from prisons.
The Risk of Prop 47 and Treatment Programs
District attorneys who once threatened felony convictions to force drug offenders into rehab programs no longer have the felony charge as an option. But for social workers, such as Molly Rysman of the Los Angeles director for Community Support Housing, the fear is offenders looking for treatment might have trouble finding it. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey agrees. “I can’t say I agree with Proposition 47. It should have mandated treatment,” she said. “Most of the money from the initiative will go to mental health and substance abuse treatment, but how we will get people to accept that treatment is the question.”
Brown acknowledged Prop 47 will change the “carrot and stick” approach that was once used to entice drug offenders into rehab with promises of lighter sentencing. Still, he thinks that can be managed. “We’re going to have to work a lot harder to convince people it’s the best thing for you,” Brown said.
Influx of Misdemeanors
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has asked the City Council for $510,000 to be put towards hiring lawyers and assistants to handle what is anticipated to be a rise in misdemeanor prosecutions (they would have previously been felonies). The office is expecting to handle 13,500 new cases per year. Most of them are drug offenses.
The Law Office of Peter Berlin – Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney
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