Initiatives to Toughen Criminal Penalties Make California Ballot

Over recent years, there has been tremendous progress in identifying long-standing issues within the criminal justice system and the need for important changes. Many of these issues involve overly harsh penalties, especially as they relate to issues such as:

  • Drug Crimes – America’s War on Drugs has been seen by many as a failure, and one of the primary reasons why American jails and imprisons are bursting at the seams. In California and many other states throughout the country, voters and lawmakers have begun to roll back some of the policies that once called for a tough stance on drug crimes by decriminalizing certain drugs (i.e. marijuana), reducing drug possession of small quantities from felonies to misdemeanors, and enacting measures to more appropriately handle non-violent drug offenders by focusing on rehabilitation.
  • Mandatory Minimums – Advocates nationwide have called attention to the consequences of mandatory minimums, and have succeeded in many states by eliminating or reducing minimum sentences for certain crimes, especially in cases involving non-violent crimes and drug offenses. Still, advocates believe there is ample work to be done in addressing mandatory minimum sentences, especially at the federal level, which are criticized for reducing the discretion of judges in imposing sentences most fit and appropriate for a particular case.
  • Mental Health – There’s widespread agreement over how the U.S. criminal justice system has failed in handling cases involving mental health issues. In fact, these criticisms have helped California reshape many of its policies for dealing with criminal defendants who do struggle with mental illness. This includes California’s Mental Health Diversion, which like the state’s Drug Diversion program, can provide mentally ill individuals with the treatment they need in lieu of serious penalties.
  • Theft Crimes – As part of a recent ballot proposition (Prop 47) a number of theft and property crimes were reduced from felonies to misdemeanors. These include theft crimes like shoplifting when the value of property is less than $950.

While these and other changes have been hailed by advocates and experts alike, they are also balanced by the need to impose laws and penalties for issues citizens believe our criminal justice system does not handle sufficiently. In fact, the power of voters to either lessen or strengthen criminal laws has resulted in many back-and-forth changes throughout history, and may again lead to tougher penalties in certain California cases come election time.

According to a new ballot measure that recently earned a sport on California’s 2020 ballot, some provisions in previous initiatives aimed at reducing incarceration rates and structuring less-severe penalties would be rolled back. For example, the proposed imitative would address matters such as:

  • Proposition 47 – In 2014, California voters approved Prop 47, which reduced a number of felony level charges to misdemeanors. This includes theft cases involving stolen property valued at less than $950. Under the new initiative, however, that policy would change to make thefts between $250 and $950 felonies.
  • Proposition 57 – The new ballot measure would also roll back some key provisions under Prop 57, passed in 2016 to allow for early release for non-violent offenders, to expand the list of crimes considered violent felonies.
  • DNA Collection – The new initiative also calls for changes to a state law that eliminated the collection of DNA in certain theft and drug crime cases, and would allow more probation revocations by requiring repeat offenders to appear before a judge.

While there is ample debate over the new measure – including opposition from individuals like Governor Jerry Brown, who states that the initiative would undermine a trend toward rehabilitation – the fact remains that it is vital in illustrating just how frequently criminal laws can evolve and change. These changes, while not always agreed upon by voters, are important to individuals who face criminal charges, as well as those who have been charged and convicted of crimes in the past.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Southern California lawyers have earned a reputation for their work in criminal defense. Part of this reputation stems from our ability to obtain successful results in challenging matters, and our focus on always being at the forefront of critical issues, new laws, and shifting trends. No matter the time or laws in place, our firm is always committed to fighting aggressively on behalf of those who have been arrested and charged with a crime.

If you have questions about your rights following a criminal allegation, please do not hesitate to contact us for a FREE and confidential consultation. Our legal team is available 24/7 to help!