Proposition 47 Votes in Unexpected Trouble

California’s Proposition 47 was hailed as a fix for the state’s burdened criminal justice system before its passage in November. Only a few months later, it’s looking like the proposition is in need of repair itself.

Its passage was supposed to decriminalize the least serious offenses and reduce the state’s crowded prison populations. Law enforcement fears that holes in the system would develop appear to be coming true, and state lawmakers are already proposing changes.

According to Ballotpedia, an online almanac of U.S. politics, some provisions continue to draw criticism in the California Legislature. Several bills were introduced to amend Proposition 47, also known as the Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative. If any of these bills are passed and signed by the governor, some of the changes may have to go on a voter ballot.

Some proposed changes include:

Senate Bill 333 and Assembly Bill 46 would allow felony charges to be filed against suspects accused of having certain “date-rape drugs.” Proposition 47 reduced the personal use of most illegal drugs to misdemeanors.

Assembly Bill 390 would require persons convicted of specified misdemeanors to provide DNA samples. California law requires only individuals convicted of felonies to provide DNA samples. Proposition 47 reduced a number of felonies to misdemeanors.

Assembly Bill 150 would make stealing a gun a felony crime. Proposition 47 made stealing an item that is valued at less than $950 a misdemeanor. Stealing a gun valued at less than $950 would be a misdemeanor.

Assembly Bill 1104 would allow search warrants for misdemeanor crimes that were previously classified as felonies before Proposition 47’s passage.


On April 14, Assembly Bill 46 cleared the Assembly Public Safety committee on a bipartisan vote. The bill addresses the problem created by Proposition 47 which significantly reduced the penalty for being in possession of Rohypnol, GHB and ketamine — three drugs commonly known as “date rape drugs.” AB 46 will impose a felony crime for possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit sexual assault. Because the bill does not directly change Proposition 47, it does not need voter approval to become law.

Ballotpedia reports that immediately following Proposition 47’s approval, inmate populations in prisons began to fall across California. In Los Angeles, which has the country’s largest jail system, the inmate population fell from 18,601 in November to 17,285 in January. According to Jody Sharp, a commander with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, narcotics arrest fell one-third and bookings fell by a quarter in January relative to the previous year.

Mixed reviews, though, have been pouring in. Garrick Byers, President of the California Public Defenders Association, views Proposition 47 as working. He said, “It reduced the punishment for many crimes from an excessive punishment to a punishment that’s more in line with what the crime is.”

Others view Proposition 47 as being short-sighted. Los Angeles City Councilman and former LAPD chief Bernard Parks noted that while drug-related arrests fell, thefts and residential burglaries rose. He said, “But what they failed to consider is that people who are using drugs are also committing other crimes. How do they stay heroin users? How do they support their habit? … People don’t want to understand that I can’t be a crack addict and have a profession. Nobody’s giving me drugs. I rob and burglarize and steal.”

Fox News reports Los Angeles County has seen a spike in crime since its November passage. Compared with the same three-month period a year ago, auto theft is up 20 percent, felonies up 16 percent, misdemeanors up 27 percent and homicides up 18 percent.

Proposition 47 passed by a 60 percent to 40 percent margin. That wide margin showed Californians wanted change in the overburdened criminal justice system. However, the change is definitely turning out to be much less than the cure-all it was envisioned to be.