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2014 California Proposition 47

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Proposition 47

November 4, 2014 (2014-11-04)

Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute.
Requires misdemeanor sentence instead of felony for certain drug and property offenses. Inapplicable to persons with prior conviction for serious or violent crime and registered sex offenders. Fiscal Impact: State and county criminal justice savings potentially in the high hundreds of millions of dollars annually. State savings spent on school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.
Votes %
Yes 4,238,156 59.61%
No 2,871,943 40.39%
Valid votes 7,110,099 94.63%
Invalid or blank votes 403,873 5.37%
Total votes 7,513,972 100.00%

Source: California Secretary of State[1]

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.[2] It recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors, rather than felonies, as they had previously been categorized.

The crimes affected were:

  • 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
  • Writing a bad check, where the value of the check does not exceed $950
  • Personal use of most illegal drugs, below a certain threshold of weight.[3]

In November 2015, the director of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project and co-author of Proposition 47, Michael Romano, said that with respect to Proposition 47, "In the long term, this reallocation of resources should significantly improve public safety". Romano authored a study supporting his conclusion.



In 2010, the California Legislature adopted AB 2372, which made most thefts of a value under $950 misdemeanors, increasing the threshold from $400, which had been in effect since 1982. This was done to keep the definition of felony theft consistent, while adjusting for the effects of inflation. Proposition 47 confirmed this action of the Legislature, and applied it to a few thefts which had not been addressed by the Legislature, primarily auto theft and the theft of some agricultural products. The measure also converted other nonviolent offenses, such as drug offenses, from felonies to misdemeanors.[4]

The measure 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."[5]

The measure included exceptions for offenses involving more than $950 and criminals with records including violence or sex offenses.[6] 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.[7]

Proposition 47, introduced to tackle prison overcrowding and reduce nonviolent offense incarcerations, reclassified specific offenses, like a few minor theft offenses not previously addressed in AB2372 and certain drug-related charges as misdemeanors, instead of felonies. However, it is important to note that it did not eliminate the prosecution of these offenses. Even before the adoption of AB2372 and the proposition, many instances of shoplifting were treated as misdemeanors. Since most shoplifting cases involve amounts under $400, the enforcement approach did not significantly alter before or after either AB2372 or Proposition 47's enactment.[8]

The primary aim of Proposition 47 was to ease prison crowding, by adopting alternative sentencing methods for nonviolent crimes. Contrary to the misconception circulating on social media, it did not mean that thefts under $950 would no longer be considered criminal offenses, or would be left unpunished. To address concerns about organized retail theft, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new law that offers flexibility to prosecutors. This legislation permits them to charge organized retail theft as either a misdemeanor or a felony, allowing tailored responses to this issue.[9]

Proposition 47 affects future convictions, and allows for people currently incarcerated for crimes covered by the measure to petition for re-sentencing.[10]

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.[11]

For impact on crime rates, see below.

The provision allowing past offenders to petition for resentencing would have expired on November 4, 2017. Governor Jerry Brown approved a bill that extended the deadline to November 4, 2022.[12]

In November 2024, an effort to amend the proposition, called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Theft Reduction Act, is planned to be placed on the ballot.[13]



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.[14] It was 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."[15] The American Civil Liberties Union supported the measure, and donated $3.5 million to support it.[16]

Prominent individual supporters included Jay-Z and Newt Gingrich.[17]



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".[18] 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".[19]

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".[20] 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.[21]

Efforts are underway to counteract the unintended consequences brought about by Proposition 47. Assemblyman Jim Cooper and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert advocate for Assembly Bill 16, a ballot initiative to resolve some of these negative effects. If the bill gathers sufficient support, Californian voters can amend the law. This proposed initiative suggests that individuals convicted of a third theft involving property valued at $250 could face felony charges. California's business community has criticized the state's criminal justice policies, particularly Proposition 47, which reclassified certain crimes, like theft of items under $950, from felonies to misdemeanors. (This is based upon a continuing misunderstanding of the effect of Prop. 47. Should the proposition be repealed, the change made by the Legislature in 2010 would still be in effect.) They claim that this adjustment has led to an increase in repeated shoplifting offenses, creating a crisis for retailers, since the adoption of Prop. 47. (Significantly, no such claim was made after the adoption of AB2372 several years prior.) Business leaders believe that the lenient approach has encouraged shoplifters and drug addicts to commit crimes with minimal consequences.[9]

Rachel Michelin, the President of the California Retailers' Association, highlights the unintended outcomes of Proposition 47. While the law intended to decrease incarceration rates and offer alternative support for offenders, theft-related crimes have resulted in a rise. Thieves frequently target items below the $950 threshold, unhinged by the repercussions. Many retailers have had to secure high-theft items to prevent further losses. These policies have contributed to California ranking among the hardest-hit states for retail theft, causing frustration and safety concerns for business owners, employees, and customers. In some instances, clashes between retail employees and thieves have escalated into violence, even resulting in fatalities.[22]

Democratic Assemblymember Rudy Salas of Bakersfield introduced a bill to reverse a significant aspect of Prop. 47 by lowering the felony threshold for petty theft and shoplifting back to $400. Salas argues that Prop. 47's weakening of theft laws has triggered unintended consequences, and believes California voters are prepared to address this issue. Salas' move contrasts with the perspectives of prominent Democrats like Governor Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta, who have downplayed the connection between Prop 47 and the surge in organized retail crime. Salas' bill could resonate with GOP voters, many of whom attribute the rise in theft and crime to Prop. 47. Responding to Salas' bill, Republican state lawmakers proposed repealing Proposition 47, highlighting the ongoing debate and division surrounding the measure's impact on crime and public safety.[23]

Impact on crime rates


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."[24] 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.[25]

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.[26] The ACLU responded by releasing a report saying that those who linked Proposition 47 and crime were "making irresponsible and inaccurate statements."[27]

In November 2015, the director of the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project and co-author of Proposition 47, Michael Romano, said that with respect to Proposition 47, "In the long term, this reallocation of resources should significantly improve public safety". Romano authored a study supporting his conclusion.[11]

A March 2016 report released by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, concluded that it was still too early to determine whether Proposition 47 had an effect on California's crime rates.[28]

A June 2018 study by the Public Policy Institute of California found evidence that Proposition 47 may have contributed toward an uptick in larceny and auto break-in thefts.[29]: 2 [30] The study indicates it found a decline in recidivism and no evidence of an increase in violent crime linked to Proposition 47.[29]: 2 

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 1970 to 2015, in New York, Nevada, Michigan and New Jersey, states that closely matched California's crime trends, but that "what the measure did do was cause less harm and suffering to those charged with crime."[31]

Numerous media outlets have continued to report an increase in retail theft related to the passage of Prop 47. In 2016, large retailers Safeway, Target, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies reported that shoplifting increased, by from 15% to as much as over 50% in some cases, since voters approved Proposition 47.[32] In 2017, the Los Angeles Times reported 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.[33] In 2018, researchers found that Prop 47 contributed to a jump in car burglaries, shoplifting and other thefts.[34] In 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Prop. 47 led to a rise in the larceny theft rate by about 9 percent, compared to the 2014 rate.[35]

By 2019, organized retail theft was on the rise. Police and store owners attributed it to Prop 47.[36] Fox News reported that post Prop 47, both shoplifters and fencers operated openly and with impunity, with both criminals and storekeepers aware that selective enforcement policies mean that police largely ignore reports of shoplifting, or respond too slowly. President of the California Retailers Association Rachel Michelin stated that thieves will bring in calculators to ensure that they do not go over the $950 limit and that "one person will go into a store, fill up their backpack, come out, dump it out and go right back in and do it all over again." She reported that out-of-state crime rings use children, as they are even less likely to be prosecuted, and that even when police make arrests, charges are dropped or downgraded by the district attorney.[37]

According to the Public Policy Institute of California,[38] violent crime in California rose by 5.7% between 2021 and 2022.

According to a 2023 Public Policy Institute of California study, proposition 47 notably impacted the rates of rearrests and reconviction among individuals who had committed offenses covered by the policy. These rates were lower, compared to similar individuals who committed such offenses before the reform. The analysis highlights that the policy change led to decreases in arrests conducted by law enforcement and convictions resulting from prosecutions carried out by district attorneys. There was a decrease in the rearrest rate for any offense. This decrease was particularly drastic for individuals who had committed Proposition 47 drug-related offenses. The reconviction rate for individuals released after committing Proposition 47 offenses was lower than their counterparts before the reform—this reduction in reconvictions held for both drug-related and property-related offenses. The study acknowledges that these reductions could be attributed to shifts in offender behavior, changes in practices within the criminal justice system, or a combination of both factors.[39]

Advocates of Proposition 47 underscored the importance of reallocating funds from incarceration to community-based treatment initiatives, to decrease the likelihood of reoffending. Prop 47 dictates that 65% of the financial savings achieved by the state be directed toward mental health and substance use disorder treatment, for individuals involved in the criminal justice system. The remaining funds are divided among K–12 schools (25%) and victim services (10%). The initial transfer of savings occurred in 2016, and the programs funded by these grants are relatively recent, making it unlikely for them to have had an immediate impact on recidivism rates.[40]

These grant programs are administered by the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), specifically focusing on mental health services, substance use disorder treatment, and interventions before an individual's arrest or booking into a jail facility. Public agencies are responsible for submitting grant applications. A minimum of half the funds must be allocated to non-governmental community-based organizations. These grants provided by the BSCC span three years, with approximately $104 million distributed from June 2017 to August 2020.[41]

Diverse projects have been funded across various counties, targeting different age groups, types of offenses, and stages within the criminal justice process. These programs involve collaboration between multiple organizations. Although they currently serve a relatively modest number of individuals annually, successful initiatives have the potential to be expanded in the future.[42]

See also



  1. ^ "Statement of Vote, November 4, 2014 General Election" (PDF). California Secretary of State. Retrieved September 1, 2015.
  2. ^ "California Proposition 47, Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative (2014)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  3. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). vig.cdn.sos.ca.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 September 2014. Retrieved 20 July 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute". California Secretary of State. Archived from the original on 2014-11-11. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  5. ^ "Criminal Sentences. Misdemeanor Penalties. Initiative Statute". California Secretary of State. Archived from the original on 2014-11-11. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Text of Proposition 47" (PDF). Retrieved July 20, 2017.
  8. ^ Loe, Megan. "No, you can't steal up to $950 worth of merchandise in California without consequence under Prop 47". Verify. TENGA INC. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  9. ^ a b Fraser, Terrence. "Proposition 47 did not end prosecution of thefts under $950 in California". AP NEWS. AP NEWS. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  10. ^ Pishko, Jessica (October 29, 2014). "Can Proposition 47 Solve California's Problem With Mass Incarceration?". Pacific Standard. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  11. ^ a b Parker, Clifton (November 2, 2015). "California's early release of prisoners proving effective so far, Stanford experts say". Stanford University. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Sangha, Gurajpal (March 7, 2024). "A proposed statewide ballot measure aims to reform Prop 47". KXTV. Retrieved March 7, 2024.
  14. ^ Editorial Board (October 30, 2014). "California Leads on Justice Reform". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  15. ^ Times Editorial Board (October 6, 2014). "Endorsement: Yes on Proposition 47". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  16. ^ El Nasser, Haya (November 14, 2014). "'Walking out of jail': Prop 47 frees felons with downgraded charges". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  17. ^ Ford, Matt (November 5, 2014). "Californians Vote to Weaken Mass Incarceration". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  18. ^ Peterson, Mark (October 31, 2014). "Guest commentary: Prop. 47 will make our neighborhoods less safe". Contra Costa Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  19. ^ O'Malley, Nancy (September 19, 2014). "Vote No on Prop. 47: Measure ends effective crime intervention". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  20. ^ Greene, Robert (October 29, 2014). "What does California's Proposition 47 have to do with date rape?". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  21. ^ Editorial Board (November 10, 2014). "Prediction: California crime wave coming". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  22. ^ Pagones, Stephanie. "California retail head slams Prop 47 for rise in thefts after Target store locks down entire inventory". NEW YORK POST. NEW YORK POST. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  23. ^ Hoeven, Emily. "Prop. 47 targeted by Dem, GOP lawmakers". CALIFORNIA MATTERS. WHATMATTERS. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  24. ^ Chang, Cindy (November 6, 2015). "Unintended consequences of Prop. 47 pose challenge for criminal justice system". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  25. ^ Saunders, Debra (August 16, 2015). "In the Wake of Proposition 47, California Sees a Crime Wave". RealClearPolitics. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ Poston, Ben (November 10, 2015). "ACLU faults California law enforcement response to Prop. 47". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 5, 2015.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ a b 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.
  30. ^ Egelko, Bob (12 June 2018). "Prop. 47 is linked to increase in auto thefts, study says". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 13 July 2019.
  31. ^ "Proposition 47 not responsible for recent upticks in crime across California, UCI study says". March 7, 2018.
  32. ^ "Spike In Shoplifting Blamed On California Prop 47's Reduced Penalties". CBS Broadcasting Inc. May 14, 2016. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  33. ^ Dolan, Maura (30 November 2017). "California Proposition 47 makes stealing a car worth $950 or less a misdemeanor offense, court rules". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  34. ^ Associated Press (13 June 2018). "Thefts rise after California reduces criminal penalties, report says". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  35. ^ Egelko, Bob (June 12, 2018). "Prop. 47 is linked to increase in auto thefts, study says". Hearst. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  36. ^ "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/
  37. ^ "California's Prop 47 leads to rise in shoplifting, thefts, criminal activity across state | Fox News". www.foxnews.com. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
  38. ^ "Crime Trends in California". Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved 2023-12-29.
  39. ^ Bird, Mia. "The Impact of Proposition 47 on Crime and Recidivism" (PDF). PPIC.ORG. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  40. ^ "Proposition 47 Grant Program". CA.GOV. BSCC CALIFORNIA. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  41. ^ "Proposition 47 Grant Program". CA.GOV. BSCC CALIFORNIA. Retrieved 2023-08-29.
  42. ^ "Proposition 47 Grant Program". CA.GOV. BSCC CALIFORNIA. Retrieved 2023-08-29.