Proposition 47, on this November’s ballot, would bring sweeping changes to how various crimes in California are classified. If passed by California voters, Proposition 47 would reduce the classification of most “nonserious and nonviolent property and drug crimes” from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The single greatest area of impact this act would have is the reclassification of the personal use of most drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. This, in and of itself, is a huge step in a positive direction, on a multitude of levels. Other crimes that would be reclassified as misdemeanors are: Shoplifting, where the value of property stolen does not exceed $950; grand theft, where the value of the stolen property does not exceed $950; receiving stolen property, where the value of the property does not exceed $950; forgery, where the value of forged check, bond or bill does not exceed $950; fraud, where the value of the fraudulent check, draft or order does not exceed $950; and writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950.
Further, this act would allow for re-sentencing for anyone currently serving a prison sentence for the aforementioned crimes, which could be as many as 10,000 inmates. The act would require a “thorough review” of criminal history and risk assessment of any individuals before re-sentencing to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the public.
However, one major caveat to the above relates to defendants who have prior convictions for murder, rape, certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes, as they can still receive felony sentencing for the above-enumerated crimes.
This measure could have a huge fiscal impact at the state and county level, with annual savings projected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Savings at the state level would be passed on to school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services, where the money would generate exponentially greater utility than it would incarcerating individuals convicted of the above offenses.
While reservations about some aspects of this ballot measure, such as reclassifying the theft of a firearm costing less than $950 to a misdemeanor, have been expressed, it is important to remember that Proposition 47 is a minor tweak to California’s Penal and Health & Safety Codes. The counter-argument to the above is that in the vast majority of cases, the theft of a firearm would also constitute burglary, which would remain felonious conduct, and anyone who breaks into a commercial building or residential dwelling to steal a firearm, still faces the potential of a felony strike conviction, depending on the facts of the case.
On the whole, I think Proposition 47 is a major step in the right direction from both a fiscal and moral perspective, especially as it relates to the personal use of controlled substances, and how we penalize such conduct.