It could get a whole lot rougher, really soon, on people convicted of crimes in California.
An initiative started by a victim’s advocacy group in the state has put new measures on the ballot for voting in 2020. The new measures would expand penalties and law enforcement’s reach in general.
Proponents of the initiative say that the changes could make the state safer. In reality, it could also make it more intrusive and punitive toward those who are found guilty of even non-violent crimes like shoplifting.
For example, the new proposal aims to increase theft charges from misdemeanors to felonies for as little as $250 in stolen merchandise. A change in 2014 actually reduced the charge in an effort to also reduce prison overcrowding. Now, since shoplifting seems to be rising again, legislators want to up the ante for defendants instead of addressing the social issues that may be behind the rash of thefts.
Other crimes would be reclassified as violent felonies, barring those defendants from early release programs in which they’re now eligible to participate. In addition, it would expand the role of DNA collection in the criminal justice system — something else that was curtailed in more recent reforms. Advocates are eager to put a system in place that would allow police to collect more DNA evidence and use it to solve old criminal cases.
According to recent reports, the state’s violent crime rate rose just 1.5 percent in the last year. Property crimes actually dropped 2.1 percent. Given the mild changes and the initiative’s potential for misuse and likelihood of flooding the prison population with theft defendants, the Governor opposes it. Calling it an ill-considered measure with too much reach, he insists that it will actually do little for public safety.
Public sentiment is always a factor in criminal cases. It’s important for any criminal defendant to take steps to preserve their rights as soon as possible because many prosecutors are politically motivated to “get tough” on crime.