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Prop 47: $950 Difference Between Felony & Misdemeanor

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental Litigation  


Stephen T. Holzer


California's Proposition 47 raises interesting questions in terms of how much certain crimes will cost law-abiding citizens, vs. how much those crimes financially burden our prison system. If approved by voters, some crimes that were once considered felonies will then be reduced to misdemeanors.

They include: 

  1. Shoplifting or grand theft, if property stolen is valued under $950;

  2. Receiving stolen property, if value of the stolen goods is under $950;

  3. Forgery, fraud or bad check writing, if the forged check, draft or other document amounts to less than $950; and

  4. Personal  use of most illegal drugs. 

Here's what Proposition 47 proposes: 

  1. Classify non-serious, nonviolent crimes listed above will be classified as misdemeanors, unless the perpetrator has prior convictions for rape, murder, gun crimes or specified sex offenses;

  2. Allow approximately 10 thousand prison inmates found guilty of the above felonies to be resentenced;

  3. Require an assessment of those inmates who may be eligible for resentencing to determine whether or not they may or may not pose a risk to the public;

  4. Establish the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund (SNSF).  If Prop 47 passes, the estimated $150-250 million in savings would be appropriated for this fund.

  5. From the SNSF, allocate 25 percent of the money accrued to the Department of Education, 10 percent to the Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, and the remaining 65 percent to the Board of State and Community Correction. 

Those who oppose Prop 47 tend to align with law enforcement groups. The opposition includes the California Police Chiefs Association, the state District Attorneys Association, and the California Correctional Supervisors Association. Add the California Chamber of Commerce; the state Republican Party; Senator Dianne Feinstein and media groups like the Sacramento, Fresno and Modesto Bees to those that do not endorse this proposal.

Here's why: Many opponents declare the measure has a fundamental flaw – that basing the seriousness of a crime on the value of the property involved could be disastrous. For example, opponents argue stealing a handgun worth less than $950 should not be classified a misdemeanor, since that theft may be a preparatory act to committing a more serious or violent crime. Further, theft of purses, wallets, cell phones, etc. from a victim's body should also not be considered a misdemeanor because of the potential for causing injury during the course of the theft.

The opponents hold the same argument regarding possession of date rape drugs, even if the quantity possessed is small.

Proponents for Proposition 47 do include members of law enforcement, but as individuals rather than whole groups or organizations. Those who recommend voting yes also have the backing of the California Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO, the California Teachers Association, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and media organizations like the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Orange County Register.

Their reasons for voting yes are that too many people are jailed for relatively minor offenses, prisons are overcrowded, and the state spends too much on running these prisons and not enough on education.

A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California taken in September shows a sampling of 62 percent of potential voters in favor, 25 percent opposed, and 13 percent undecided on Prop 47. 

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business & Environmental Litigation Attorney. Contact him via phone: 818.907.3299, or by email: for more information.


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