How Prop 57 Changes California's Criminal Justice System

Voters in California approved of Proposition 57 last month in a winning ratio of 2-to-1. The ballot described the measure as something that would increase parole chances for nonviolent felons, as well as letting judges decide if juveniles should be tried as adults, taking that power from prosecutors. Despite that description and the major win for the bill, many Californians will admit that they still do not understand what it does, or how it will impact the average person in the state. We hope to provide some clarity on that now.

Increased Parole Opportunities for Nonviolent Convicts

The main component of Prop 57 was giving more nonviolent convicts a chance to get out of prison and onto parole, if they were approved by the Department of Corrections. The parole reform was created in the first place due to a 2011 Supreme Court ruling that mandated California find a way to reduce its prison population, or else it would be in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Prop 57 represents just one of several legislative proposals, including Prop 47, that have sought to meet that mandate.

Some 25,000 or so nonviolent felons are anticipated to be able to seek early release through the altered rules. The majority of these nonviolent felons are believed to be people who have been convicted for drug crimes, such as sale and possession. The passage of Prop 57 has been hailed as a lifesaver for these people, who have been side-by-side with violent offenders for years for crimes as arguably-innocuous as owning too much marijuana.

Voters who chose "No" on Prop 57 largely expressed concern over the potential for nonviolent sex crime convicts to be released early. In particular, sexual assault on a person who is unconscious is considered nonviolent in California; people convicted for this act could spend less time in prison due to Prop 57. However, it is important to remember that a Board of Corrections still must review and approve early release petitions – convicts are not simply released early without improving their behaviors.

Charging Juveniles as Adults

When a juvenile is accused of committing a particularly serious felony – such as carjacking, murder, or non-statutory rape – they can be tried as an adult instead of a juvenile. This changes how the case moves through the criminal justice system, and typically allows for much steeper penalties, including life imprisonment. In the past, the prosecution got to decide when to escalate the charges and consider the minor an adult; now, that decision falls onto judges in an administrative hearing that takes place before any trial.

For more information about Prop 57 changes and your new legal rights under them, call 888.392.8114 to get a free consultation with an Orange County criminal defense lawyer from the Law Office of Frances Prizzia.