Eye on the Courts: Early Returns on Prop. 47

Mass Incarceration

Last week I had a few opportunities to go into the courts here in Yolo County and to see how Prop. 47 would work. It is too early to see the hearings for those serving time who are now eligible to be resentenced under Prop. 47.

What we did see was how Prop. 47 was initially going to be handled in the courts, against people who were originally charged with felony possession, but then had their charges reduced to misdemeanors.

Most of the cases that I saw involved people who were not currently in custody – so they either made bail or were out on their own recognizance. Even in cases where all of the charges were reduced to misdemeanors, they were keeping those cases in the same courtroom and not moving them to a misdemeanor courtroom.

Obviously, the reduction to misdemeanors has several immediate impacts on the cases – those that were awaiting preliminary hearings now no longer are required to have preliminary hearings. Bail is reduced, as is exposure. Ultimately, will these cases be more likely to settle out and less likely to go to trial? Probably.

But what is the ultimate result of Prop. 47? No one really knows. I overheard one defense attorney arguing that there would be a much bigger impact in Yolo County than elsewhere. That is because Yolo County practically charges all of these cases which are wobblers as felonies.

When the AB 109 data came out a few years ago, the Vanguard did analysis which showed that Yolo County, which had a crime rate in the middle tier, had the fourth largest per capita prison population in the state.

I have now seen data showing the Yolo County will have the third highest rate of Prop. 47 resentencings in the state, again per capita, just behind Stanislaus and Kings counties, and ahead of Kern, Lake, Riverside, Tehama, Los Angeles and Butte.

The question is, how is the system going to respond to these changes? The immediate impact will be a reduction in the number of felony cases – drug and mainly petty theft charges that were felonies will now be misdemeanors.

That means that a lot of these cases that ended up going to preliminary hearing and then ultimately pleading out will get resolved much earlier and more quickly.

As we can see by the data above, Yolo County had the third highest rate in the state when it came to incarcerating offenders for Prop. 47 crimes to state prison. The voters clearly passed Prop. 47 because they believed we were wasting resources on relatively small crimes, recognizing that incarceration for these crimes is both costly and ineffective.

The data clearly match the perception of Yolo County as being tough on relatively minor crimes.

So where does this go? Well, I think district attorneys are creative enough to find ways to make some of these cases be felonies. They probably won’t do it for everyone, however, only those with long histories of dangerous crimes that do not reach the level of crime required by Prop. 47 to nullify misdemeanor charges.

Second, I expect a lot of court time and resources will be freed up. We have basically created a system of plea agreements because there is not enough time or resources to take every case to trial.

So, for more serious felonies that do not fall within the Prop. 47 rubric, I expect to see fewer cases pleading out, more cases going to preliminary hearing and possibly trial, and tougher offers for plea agreements.

Everything is a bit of balancing act, but a lot of the sponsors of Prop. 47 did so out of the belief that we should focus law enforcement resources on the most serious crime. I am not sure we are going to get there in one fell swoop. I see openings for both charging Prop. 47 offenders with felony crimes as well as the potential that the next tier of cases simply get tougher plea agreements.

The data on AB 109 are more mixed in terms of impact. There seemed to be a small uptick in the crime rate in the first year or so of AB 109, followed by a resumption of the decline in the crime rate that has occurred since the 1970s.

A lot of people have argued that three strikes works because of the drop in crime rate, but they ignore the fact that crime rates really began to drop more than a decade before three strikes, and they occurred across the nation regardless of local laws.

Moreover, one of the problems with looking at data on AB 109 is that there were multiple factors that occurred simultaneously. In addition to AB 109, you saw a number of communities facing bankruptcy and forced to cut back on police – that seems more likely to account for the uneven pattern of criminal rising and falling after AB 109, which shows that crimes rates varied widely by location.

One place where the crime rate has increased has been Davis. Why would crime rates increase in Davis? Is it the presence of more of these low level offenders released under AB 109? Possibly. Or it may just be that Davis has seen demographic shifts in the last decade and crime rates are moving more toward where they should be.

Or it is possible that, in an area with low levels of crime, small shifts can produce measurable impacts?

Certainly AB 109 and Prop. 47 will change charging policies in a county that is notorious for its hardline stances, and how that will affect crime rates over time remains to be seen.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Anon

    “The data on AB 109 are more mixed in terms of impact. There seemed to be a small uptick in the crime rate in the first year or so of AB 109, followed by a resumption of the decline in the crime rate that has occurred since the 1970s.
    A lot of people have argued that three strikes works because of the drop in crime rate, but they ignore the fact that crime rates really began to drop more than a decade before three strikes, and they occurred across the nation regardless of local laws.”
    The uptick in crime the first year after AB 109 was certainly an inconvenient truth to AB 109 supporters.  One could certainly argue but for AB 109, the crime rate may have gone down after that first year even more than it actually did.  The same argument could be applied to the three strikes law.  But for the three strikes law, the crime rate would not have declined as much as it did.

  2. Chase Tinsley

    I may or may not answer some of the comments made about the post involving my case -as I’m sure Mr. Sage would be advising me not to..

    but in regards to this article…

    When charges are refiled in my case, it’ll be a first glimpse into how they will be charging people they used to be able to get felonies out of. I highly doubt in my case – at this point – it would be very cost effective but it seems that the angered Mr. Eichele and Judge McAdam were on the same page as to I’d be having another arraignment on Dec. 18th for a HS 11377(a), but this time as a misdemeanor.If the DA tried to add charges at this point, which again in my case there is very little evidence if any that would hold up in court, it would probably benefit me when I demur to the complaint. If the demurrer was denied, forcing me to plead not guilty, and  now to multiple charges, I’d be requesting the appeals court for an appellate PD as well as asking Mr. Sage to motion against the DA’s office jurisdiction now on the grounds on malicious prosecution.

    I may delete this as even trying to be cryptic could hurt me and put ideas in certain people’s heads who aren’t fond of me.

  3. theotherside

    I have a suggestion Mr Tinsley.  How about taking some personal responsibility for your circumstances whether or not charges are refiled.  Perhaps you could enter a drug rehabilitation program to seek help for your abuse problem.  If you feel there is an issue with a waste of government resources in this matter, perhaps take it upon yourself to fix the problem.  Instead of being a drain on resources, be the bigger person and seek help.  You will be a better person once you are able to kick your methamphetamine habit, healthier, and a contributing member of society.  If you choose not to I have another suggestion.  When you decide to go out in public, leave the meth at home.  Make it something you do at home so you do not risk being arrested and prosecuted for possessing it.  We would all appreciate the effort.

    Also, if you are ever pat searched again, just go with it whether it is legal or illegal in your opinion.  The courts have a way of working out the legality.  In 2013 76 police officers were killed in the line of duty and over 46,000 were assaulted by suspects while performing their job.  So when you pull away from an officer pat searching you, whether legal or not in your opinion, you will be handled appropriately.  The reasoning is that if you are pulling away the officer feels you are either going to flee, assault them, or retrieve a weapon.  Everyone can go home safe and unharmed if you can keep that in mind.

    So to sum up, you can blame your problems on outside sources, or look inward and take some responsibility.

    1. sisterhood

      I agree with much of your comment and hope, if it is really an addiction, that Mr. Tinsley seeks help, or stays home when he wants to get high.

      You can probably understand why a person would naturally want to pull away when a stranger is groping them.

      1. Barack Palin

        You can probably understand why a person would naturally want to pull away when a stranger is groping them.

        I like how you nonchalantly try to pass this off, it’s not like it was some stranger off the street groping him, it was a police officer performing his duties of patting him down, big difference.

  4. Chase Tinsley

    theotherside: Hrd talking to someone that replies with all assumptions based off of the same train of thoughts thatgods I swear we are now anyway you got no idea in the last year well 14 months since my arrest if I have remained using as you say or if I had gotten clean you also obviously didn’t take the time to read any comments from the original articlehad you you would know that if for some ungodly reason my case ended up in front of a jury I had more of a defense then just in non consensual excessively forceful search that violated my civil rights and constitutional rights the courts obviously don’t have a way of working this out well but yet they do of course because that’s what we’re talking aboutnot going to waste my time talking about my prescription for methamphetamine that was valid at the time of my arrest. to suggest that I put a drain on society Without don’t know anything about meand mainly I don’t see how you can use your train of thought to justify being slammed into a glass wall when I was completely cooperative. which is mentioned throughout the police reportand the fact that it was charged is a felony instead of a misdemeanor which is what this actual page instead of the page about me is about I have a hard time taking accountability for something irrelevant to what’s at handand it’s sad that you think somebody shouldtake your suggestionlet the police break the law if you’re not breaking it.  I’ve never said whether I pulled away or moved at all on here. trying to reply from Phone  to difficult and I feel I need to properly address each of your condescending statementsyou’ll have a nice response this week hope your Thanksgiving was nice

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