California Proposition 57, also known as the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, changes California's criminal law in several important ways.
First, it eliminates certain provisions which previously allowed prosecutors to try a juvenile in adult court simply by charging them with certain serious felonies, such as rape or murder.
After the passage of Proposition 57, a prosecutor must obtain approval from a judge before a juvenile may be prosecuted as an adult. In evaluating these requests, the judge will consider reports from the probation department, the juvenile's history, and other relevant factors.
Previously, under the prior law (known as Proposition 21), prosecutors could unilaterally determine whether a juvenile case was appropriate for adjudication in adult court based on the severity of the offense. Since 2003, there were reports showing more than 10,000 minor were tried as adults in California, including over 7,000 that were filed directly by the county prosecutor, with no oversight from the judge.
On February 1, 2018, the California Supreme Court held that this provision of Proposition 57 applies to every juvenile case which had not yet reached final judgment at the time of the change in the law.
Accordingly, approximately cases involving juvenile offenders which had already been filed in adult courts must now be transferred back to juvenile court to comply with Proposition 57's new certification procedure.
Non-Violent Felons May Apply for Early Release
Second, Proposition 57 makes certain non-violent felons eligible for parole after completing the base-term of their sentence. Often, criminal defendants are sentenced to prison time based not only on the base offense (i.e. robbery, or burglary) but also based on enhancements and special allegations (i.e. use of a firearm, or acting in furtherance of a street gang).
These enhancements may add many years to a prisoner's sentence. Under Proposition 57, these prisoners may apply for parole after completing only the portion of their sentence attributable to the base offense. It should be noted that the new law only makes these offenders eligible for parole; it does not guarantee them early release.
That decision still rests with the California parole board, which will consider the totality of the circumstances in each individual case in determining whether parole is appropriate. The application of this new standard could provide significant total sentence reductions for inmates.
Oftentimes, sentence enhancements, especially those involving firearms, can add tremendous amounts of time to prison sentences. For example, discharging a firearm resulting in great bodily injury during the commission of a felony can add 25 years to a prison sentence. Convicted individuals no longer have to serve out these lengthy enhanced sentences in their entirety prior to becoming eligible for parole.
Inmates Can Earn Good Conduct Credits
Proposition 57 also alters the way custody credits are calculated in California Department of Corrections facilities. Prior to the enactment of the new law, inmates would receive “good time” credit against their sentences for following facility rules and guidelines, and generally staying out of trouble while serving their sentences.
Inmates would also receive “work time” credit for satisfactorily completing assigned tasks while in custody. Additional credits may also be awarded for special categories of conduct such as participation in self-help programs, engaging in volunteer or community service work, or obtaining a college degree while incarcerated.
Proposition 57 increases the number of credits awarded to inmates in these categories depending on the inmate classification. Inmate classifications in CDCR facilities are a complex topic, and discretion over classification rests largely with CDCR officials post-sentencing.
In general, however, non-violent offenders now have the opportunity, if they proactively work toward rehabilitation by participation in the programs described above, to earn significantly reduced sentences, sometimes reducing their total prison sentences by two thirds.
California Proposition 57 Case Examples
The application of Proposition 57's changes to conduct credits, as well as granting of early parole consideration, must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Here are several examples of how Proposition 57's changes might apply in a hypothetical case:
1. A defendant is convicted of possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute in violation of Penal Code § 11351 and is sentenced to 3 years in state prison. The jury additionally finds that the defendant personally used a firearm at the time of the crime, so the court imposes an additional 10 years of state prison time pursuant to California Penal Code Section 12022.5.
Prior to Proposition 57, the defendant would not have been eligible for parole for 13 years (excluding the applicability of conduct credits). Under the new law, the defendant would only have to serve 3 years in state prison before becoming eligible for parole.
2. A defendant is convicted of a violent felony within the meaning of Penal Code § 667.5(c), such as armed robbery. Under the prior law, the defendant could earn only 15% credit - meaning that they would serve 85% of their determinate sentence, even with good time and work time credits.
Under Proposition 57, if the defendant takes advantage of the rehabilitative programs described above, and participates in “fire camp,” (essentially volunteer firefighting) they can earn up to 50% credit, thereby significantly reducing their total term of incarceration.
3. Take the previous example, but this time suppose that the defendant is convicted of a third “strike” offense under California's three-strikes law. As the name implies, the Defendant has now “struck out,” and will be sentenced to a term of 25 years to life. Under prior law, such “lifers” received no credit whatsoever toward their sentences for good time or work time.
Under Proposition 57, so long as the third strike is for a non-violent offense, these inmates will now receive 33% credit for good time and work time.
In summary, California Proposition 57, allows non-violent offenders to apply for early parole after they complete a portion of their sentence attributable to the base offense. It also restricts prosecution of juvenile offenders as adults.
The California Supreme Court ruled this provision applies to every juvenile case which had not yet reached final judgment at the time of the change in the law. Cases involving juvenile offenders that were already filed in adult courts have to be transferred back to juvenile court to comply with Proposition 57's new certification procedure.
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