California Proposition 47 (2014)
|Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute.|
|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. It recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized. The proposition would have expired on November 4, 2017, though governor Jerry Brown approved a bill that extended the deadline to November 4, 2022.
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.
A 2018 study maintains that Prop 47 was not a “driver” for recent upticks in crime.
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, but Hayley Munguia of FiveThirtyEight has argued that in three of other four states—Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas—that passed similar laws, crime rates decreased afterward. 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 Morano, said in November 2015 that, with respect to Proposition 47, "In the long term, this reallocation of resources should significantly improve public safety". Mr. Morano authored a study supporting his conclusion.
- "Statement of Vote, November 4, 2014 General Election" (PDF). California Secretary of State. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
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- Peterson, Mark (October 31, 2014). "Guest commentary: Prop. 47 will make our neighborhoods less safe". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
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- Poston, Ben (November 10, 2015). "ACLU faults California law enforcement response to Prop. 47". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
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