2014 California Proposition 47
|Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute, also called The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act on the ballot information guide.|
|Date||November 4, 2014|
|Source: California Secretary of State|
Proposition 47, also known by its ballot title Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute, was a referendum passed by voters in the state of California on November 4, 2014. The measure was also referred to by its supporters as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (originally titled by California Attorney General Kamala Harris). It recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized.
The measure's main effects were to convert many nonviolent offenses, such as drug and property offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors. These offenses include shoplifting, writing bad checks, and drug possession. The measure also required that money saved as a result of the measure would be spent on "school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, and drug abuse treatment, and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail." The measure included exceptions for offenses involving more than $950 and criminals with records including violence or sex offenses. For example, forgery had previously been a "wobbler" offense that could be charged by the prosecutor as a misdemeanor or a felony. Now with the passage of Proposition 47, prosecutors cannot charge a forgery involving less than $950 as a felony unless the defendant has a criminal record.
The measure both affects future convictions and allows for people currently incarcerated for crimes covered by the measure to petition for re-sentencing.
In November 2015, a report by the Stanford University Justice Advocacy Project authored by the co-author of Proposition 47, found that Proposition 47 had reduced the state's prison population by 13,000 and that it would save the state about $150 million that year.
For impact on crime rates, see below.
The provision allowing past offenders to petition for resentencing would have expired on November 4, 2017, though governor Jerry Brown approved a bill that extended the deadline to November 4, 2022.
The measure was endorsed by the editorial board of the New York Times, which praised it as a way to reduce overcrowding in the state's prisons. It was also endorsed by the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, which wrote that the measure was a "good and timely measure that can help the state make smarter use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources." The American Civil Liberties Union also supported the measure and donated $3.5 million to support it.
Opponents of the measure include Mark A. Peterson, the District Attorney of Contra Costa County, who wrote before its passage that the measure "would make our neighborhoods and schools less safe". It was also criticized by Nancy O'Malley, the District Attorney of Alameda County, who said it would "expose Californians to significant harm" and called it a "Trojan horse".
Among the most prominent arguments made against the law was that possession of the date-rape drug Rohypnol would, under the law, be punished as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, which critics described as a "slap on the wrist". Critics also argued that not being able to use incarceration to force drug users into treatment would make it more difficult for drug users to enter into a treatment program.
Impact on crime rates
As of 2014, the outcome of the measure was still uncertain with respect to future crime rates. Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight has argued that in three of other four states—Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas—that passed sentencing reform laws, crime rates decreased afterward. However, none of those laws reduced felony convictions to misdemeanors like what Proposition 47 did. . It also remains uncertain whether the measure will actually keep people out of prison, though the Legislative Analyst's Office has concluded that it will decrease the state's prison population by "several thousand" inmates. It has been estimated that the measure will affect about 40,000 felony convictions per year, which would be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, representing about one-fifth of annual convictions in California. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has estimated that under the measure, almost 4,800 state prisoners are eligible to petition for resentencing.
Several commentators contrasted Proposition 47 with the three-strikes law that had been passed in California two decades earlier. Before the initiative passed, political science professor Thad Kousser said that it "would officially end California's tough-on-crime era" if it was passed.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that "law enforcement officials and others have blamed Proposition 47 for allowing repeat offenders...to continue breaking the law with little consequence." Also that year, a spokesman for George Gascón, the district attorney of San Francisco, said that the law "has made it easier for drug offenders to avoid mandated treatment programs." The mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has also suggested that the law may explain why his city's crime rates went from decreasing to increasing. In a 2015 story in the Washington Post, the police chief of San Diego, Shelley Zimmerman, described Proposition 47 as "a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card." She and other police chiefs also expressed concern about the increasing phenomenon of "frequent flier" criminals–people who exploit Proposition 47 to commit crimes. For example, one criminal allegedly brought a calculator into a store to avoid stealing more than $950 worth of goods. The ACLU responded by releasing a report saying that those who linked Proposition 47 and crime were "making irresponsible and inaccurate statements."
The director of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project and co-author of Proposition 47, Michael Romano, said in November 2015 that, with respect to Proposition 47, "In the long term, this reallocation of resources should significantly improve public safety". Mr. Romano authored a study supporting his conclusion.
However, a 2018 study from the University of California, Irvine, maintains that Prop 47 was not a “driver” for recent upticks in crime, based upon comparison of data from New York, Nevada, Michigan and New Jersey (states that closely matched California’s crime trends) 1970 to 2015, but that "what the measure did do was cause less harm and suffering to those charged with crime."
Numerous media outlets have continued to report an increase in retail theft related to the passage of Prop 47. Large retailers Safeway, Target, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies reported in 2016 that shoplifting increased from 15 percent to (in some cases) over 50 percent since voters approved Proposition 47. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2017 that the California Supreme Court ruled that a person convicted of a felony for stealing a car may have that conviction reduced to a misdemeanor if the vehicle was worth no more than $950, and in 2018 that researchers found Prop 47 contributed to a jump in car burglaries, shoplifting and other thefts. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2018 that that Prop. 47 led to a rise in the larceny theft rate of about 9 percent compared to the 2014 rate. 
By 2019, organized retail theft was on the rise; police attributed it to Prop 47.
- "Statement of Vote, November 4, 2014 General Election" (PDF). California Secretary of State. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
- "California Proposition 47, Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative (2014)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
- "Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute". California Secretary of State. Archived from the original on 2014-11-11. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
- St. John, Paige (October 11, 2014). "Prop. 47 would cut penalties for 1 in 5 criminals in California". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- "Text of Proposition 47" (PDF). Retrieved July 20, 2017.
- Pishko, Jessica (October 29, 2014). "Can Proposition 47 Solve California's Problem With Mass Incarceration?". Pacific Standard. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
- Parker, Clifton (November 2, 2015). "California's early release of prisoners proving effective so far, Stanford experts say". Stanford University. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
- Rokos, Brian (September 29, 2016). "New law gives felons more time to get record changed under Prop. 47". The Press Enterprise. Retrieved March 10, 2018.
- Editorial Board (October 30, 2014). "California Leads on Justice Reform". New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Times Editorial Board (October 6, 2014). "Endorsement: Yes on Proposition 47". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- El Nasser, Haya (November 14, 2014). "'Walking out of jail': Prop 47 frees felons with downgraded charges". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Ford, Matt (November 5, 2014). "Californians Vote to Weaken Mass Incarceration". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Peterson, Mark (October 31, 2014). "Guest commentary: Prop. 47 will make our neighborhoods less safe". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- O'Malley, Nancy (September 19, 2014). "Vote No on Prop. 47: Measure ends effective crime intervention". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Greene, Robert (October 29, 2014). "What does California's Proposition 47 have to do with date rape?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Editorial Board (November 10, 2014). "Prediction: California crime wave coming". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Vara, Vauhini (November 7, 2014). "Will California Again Lead the Way on Prison Reform?". The New Yorker. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Kurhi, Eric (November 11, 2014). "Santa Clara County hears first crop of post-Proposition 47 crime-reduction petitions". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
- Mcevers, Kelly (October 21, 2014). "California Proposition Re-evaluates Approach To Crime". NPR. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Chokshi, Niraj (October 31, 2014). "California voters seem ready to end the state's 'tough on crime' era". Washington Post. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
- Chang, Cindy (November 6, 2015). "Unintended consequences of Prop. 47 pose challenge for criminal justice system". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
- Saunders, Debra (August 16, 2015). "In the Wake of Proposition 47, California Sees a Crime Wave". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
- Saslow, Eli (October 10, 2015). "In California, Prop 47 has turned into a 'virtual get-out-of-jail-free card'". Washington Post. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
- Poston, Ben (November 10, 2015). "ACLU faults California law enforcement response to Prop. 47". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
- Males, Mike (March 15, 2016). "New Report! Is Proposition 47 to Blame for California's 2015 Increase in Urban Crime?". Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
- Bird, Mia; Lofstrom, Magnus; Martin, Brandon; Raphael, Steven; Nguyen, Viet. "The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism" (PDF). Public Policy Institute of California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
- Egelko, Bob (12 June 2018). "Prop. 47 is linked to increase in auto thefts, study says". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
- "Proposition 47 not responsible for recent upticks in crime across California, UCI study says". March 7, 2018.
- "Spike In Shoplifting Blamed On California Prop 47's Reduced Penalties". CBS Broadcasting Inc. May 14, 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Dolan, Maura. "California Proposition 47 makes stealing a car worth $950 or less a misdemeanor offense, court rules". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Associated Press. "Thefts rise after California reduces criminal penalties, report says". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- Egelko, Bob (June 12, 2018). "Prop. 47 is linked to increase in auto thefts, study says". Hearst. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
- "After searching police reports and arrest records, CBS13 found that while the rate of these grab and dash crimes is on the rise, the rate of arrest is down. We turned to law enforcement and the retail industry for answers. Both blame a California law intended to make “neighborhoods safe.”" https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2019/09/25/grab-and-dash-thefts-rise-police-blame-law/