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Defendants Await Reduced Sentences Under Recently Passed Prop 47

Under Prop 47, inmates charged with nonviolent, low-level felony crimes can now apply for reduced sentences. | Photo:MrPlow5/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Another large group of defendants charged with drug-related and other nonviolent violations will seek today to have the crimes they face reduced from felonies to misdemeanors under Proposition 47.

Defendants have been seeking such reductions since voters approved Proposition 47 earlier this month, and prosecutors are bracing for about 4,000 cases in Orange County alone.

Proposition 47 lowers the classification of most nonviolent property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors unless the defendant has prior convictions for murder, rape, some sex offenses or gun crimes. Defendants who have already been sentenced can petition the court for a do-over under the new law.

Prosecutors are warning that some hardened criminals have already taken advantage of the new law. Defense attorneys argue that the proposition is offering a second chance to drug addicts while also helping to alleviate jail and prison overcrowding.

"Our resources are being stretched" because of the flood of new legal action spurred by Proposition 47, according to Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.

"This is one of the worst things that has ever happened to public safety," Schroeder added.

Schroeder pointed to the case of Steven Delgado, a four-striker, whose took advantage of the new law Nov. 12 for his most recent case of possession of methamphetamine.

Delgado was convicted of murder in 1990, but the conviction was overturned on appeal and in 2000 he struck a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter instead, Schroeder said.

Delgado was sentenced to 11 years in prison and was back in trouble with the law again in 2004 when he pleaded guilty to felony assault with great bodily injury as well as criminal threats and domestic violence, Schroeder said. For that, he was sentenced to a dozen years in prison.

Thanks to Proposition 47, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years of formal probation, Schroeder said.

Attorney Kate Corrigan, a former prosecutor who recently completed a third term as president of the Orange County Criminal Defense Bar Association, said the District Attorney's Office is exaggerating the risk.

"The DA's office is going to use the scare tactic of the big, bad wolf is going to get out of jail when in fact the majority of the people getting released or who are deserving of release from Prop. 47 are low-level users, addicts saddled with felony convictions, many of whom become successful in future lives, but are still saddled with these convictions," Corrigan said.

A felony conviction can affect someone's right to vote, the ability to rent an apartment, obtain school loans or get a job, Corrigan said.

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