There is a Latin phrase that many attorneys learn in law school: “post hoc, ergo propter hoc.” Basically, that phrase translates to “after this, therefore because of this.” When one event is seemingly related to an event that follows it, there is a tendency to assume the second event was caused by the first event. However, this principle of causation is generally not true. Applying this idea would be like claiming that the St. Louis Rams decided to return to Los Angeles because their last playoff appearance was 10 years ago.
With this fallacy in mind, it is worth asking whether a change in the way crimes are classified affects the frequency in which they are committed. According to some, this is exactly what has happened in California since voters passed Proposition 47 (also known as the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act”) in 2014.
The law reduced the penalties for certain drug and theft crimes to address the problems of harshly punishing non-violent offenders and jail overcrowding. The law is both prospective and retroactive, changing how crimes are charged going forward and allowing people who are serving time or have served time to have their felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.
Correlation Does Not Equal Causation
Since the initiative’s passage, crime rates have gone up in California, especially in the state’s 10 largest cities. In Los Angeles County, property crimes have increased eight percent from last year, with auto thefts increasing by over 20 percent.
Sheriff’s officials say there is a link between drug and property crimes, as drug addicts tend to steal to support their habits. In many cases, sheriff’s deputies decline to make drug arrests because a crime unlikely to incur much of a penalty seems to be not worth spending several hours to process a suspect.
While deputies have been ordered to continue making these busts, drug arrests by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are down 30% from a year ago. This means that many people who would be put into the system and sentenced to receive treatment are being ignored and, according to some officials, the increase in property crime could be due to thefts made to support drug habits of addicted individuals.1
Yet, not every one is on board with the idea that Proposition 47 is to blame. A study by the Stanford Justice Advocacy Project – an organization that had a hand in drafting Proposition 47 – found that the recidivism rate among those released under the new law was five percent, much lower than the average 42% rate of ex-convicts released under other circumstances.
Michael Romano, the director of the project, explained, “The correlation that is suggested by some law enforcement officials, frankly, does not square with the available data, and, certainly, the data that has been released by state agencies … indicates that those who’ve been released early under Proposition 47 are not responsible for the crimes being reported.”2
Can Prop 47 Help You?
Prop 47 only works with certain drug or theft crimes. If your conviction is for any other crime, you are not eligible to have your sentence or conviction reduced. Prop 47 also purposely excludes from eligibility persons who have been convicted of a number of serious, violent offenses. Many of these offenses are those that are covered under California’s “Three Strikes” law, which requires a mandatory life sentence for the commission of third serious or violent offense. However, not all of the offenses under the Three Strikes law will render you ineligible for a Prop 47 reduction. Prop 47 also excludes people whose criminal history has required them to register as a sex offender under California Penal Code section 290
While the list of crimes excluded from consideration under Prop 47 is lengthy, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine whether you are eligible to have your felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor. There is no reason that you should carry the burden of a felony conviction if the law gives you a way to avoid doing so. If it is not possible under Prop 47, your attorney may still find other ways to reduce your felony conviction or expunge the conviction from your record.
Call a Criminal Defense Attorney Right Away
If you were convicted of a felony and are interested in finding out if you are eligible for resentencing under Prop 47, contact our office now for a free case evaluation. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled team of attorneys has been successfully helping clients obtain post-conviction relief for over 30 years. We work tirelessly to help our clients reduce the impact of their prior criminal history on their lives.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney near you no matter where you work or live.
Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.
1. [Cindy Chang, Marisa Gerber, and Ben Poston, “Unintended consequences of Prop. 47 pose challenge for criminal justice system,” The Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2015, available at http://www.latimes.com/local/crime/la-me-prop47-anniversary-20151106-story.html]↩
2. [Steven Greenhut, “Did Prop. 47 cause state crime boost?” The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 30, 2015, available at http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/2015/nov/30/did-prop-47-cause-states-crime-boost/.]↩