Courts said to struggle below wt of Prop. forty-seven filings

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Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 11:03 AM

Proposition forty-seven allowed current and ex-felons with nonviolent theft and drug possession offenses to petition to have their crimes reclassified as misdemeanors.

Courts said to struggle below wt of Prop. forty-seven filings

It was seen as a chance for a spotless slate and a remedy for California’s overcrowded prisons and jails. Proposition forty-seven allowed current and ex-felons with nonviolent theft and drug possession offenses to petition to have their crimes reclassified as misdemeanors.

Petitioners jumped at the opportunity, applying for resentencing and reclassification in a wave that flooded courthouses across CA by the tens of thousands – more than 200.000 petitions and applications were filed in the thirteen months after voters approved Proposition forty-seven in November two thousand fourteen, including more than 10.000 in Sacramento Superior Court, according to the state’s Judicial Council.

Presently a Judicial Council report that examined the early impacts of Proposition forty-seven on workload in California’s Ct system has exposed issues from the necessity to manage resources to handle Proposition forty-seven cases to the added layers of complexity the ballot measure laid over felony and misdemeanor cases.

The Judicial Council’s report, : Workload Impacts,” eyed the impacts of Proposition forty-seven on Ct operations, using online surveys, phone interviews in nine CA counties and site visits to courthouses in Kern, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Clara and Shasta counties to interview judges, Ct workers and others in the justice system.

Executive across the valid community declare they're feeling the strain of bearing the added caseload.

“We continue to juggle petitions, but we can’t continue to hold the balls in the air,” said Shawn Landry, Yolo Superior Ct executive officer. “One of the many ones is going to fall at any given time.”

Below Proposition forty-seven, felony filings decreased, but “the genuine cost is in man-hours. It’s a enormous cost and number one has been able to accurately evaluate the cost savings,” said Sacramento Superior Ct Judge Marjorie Koller, the point person in a Ct whose thousands of Proposition forty-seven filings trace only San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties. “It’s distant more complex than anyone had any notion of.”

California’s courts received about $27 million during the current monetary year to assistance address the costs of resentencing connected with Proposition forty-seven, according to the Judicial Council. Another $21.4 million has been proposed in the governor’s 2016-2017 draft budget, the council said.

Koller’s downtown Sacramento courtroom is the county’s hub for Proposition forty-seven cases. About 5.000 Proposition forty-seven petitions and applications have landed there since November two thousand fourteen. She's enlisted a retired receptionist to assistance plow through the paper, but it remains painstaking work.

Koller reviews the sentences of each petitioner to look if they qualify to be resentenced or have their charges reduced. Oftentimes, a petitioner’s multiple charges create the reviews more complex. Min orders are filed for each petition with copies going to the county prosecutor and to the jail or prison where the inmate is being held.

Not all petitions are granted. Koller said as of the finish of February, she'd granted about 3.000 petitions but denied about 1.800.

Across the Str at the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, Helper Chief Deputy District Attorney Robin Shakely handles Proposition forty-seven cases.

Shakely receives petitions, calls for rap sheets, probation reports and Ct files, reads the petitions for disqualifications such as sex crimes and murders, looks at specific offenses to define eligibility. Her office then files motions with the Ct explaining why the person is or isn’t eligible for resentencing or reclassification. The motions are then sent to the county’s public defender or private attorney and the court, which rules on the motion.

“It takes a lot of paperwork. What makes you eligible or ineligible is a emotional target,” Shakely said. How charges are determined to be felony or misdemeanor adds more complexity, she said.

But Sacramento County worked quickly after the two thousand fourteen ballot measure passed to streamline how Proposition forty-seven cases are handled, assigning one judge, one prosecutor and one public defender, Chief Helper Public Defender Karen Flynn, to the cases.

“Cheaper, better, faster” is the result, said Flynn, who's worked for years alongside Koller and counterpart Shakely, and says their mutual believe built over the decades has been key.

A standing Ct order that went into effect latest Aug appoints the county’s public defender to all Proposition forty-seven cases. Flynn devised a single-sheet form to screen applicants, asking them to list their prior convictions, whether their theft offense exceeded Proposition forty-seven’s $950 threshold and whether their rap sheet contains sex crimes or other violent offenses.

Sacramento County probation, Sheriff’s Department, district attorney and Sacramento Superior Ct each refer clients to Flynn.

“They say, ‘Go speak to Karen Flynn,’” Flynn said. “If you spread it all around, you lose efficiency.”

She's become an ambassador of sorts for Proposition forty-seven filings, talking to those with criminal records at area churches, community centers and at “Clean Slate Clinics,” where people with criminal histories can discover out more about Proposition forty-seven eligibility, calling the workload connected to the ballot measure “much to do about nothing.”

“Courts and the district attorney and the public defender offices should gladly ensure laws and rights are realized in an orderly way, even if it means more work,” Flynn said via email. “For those who are benefiting from the law, it means a lot – many presently have a ‘clean slate’ and are able to discover work and modify their lives, despite making mistakes in their youth.”

Koller believes Sacramento County has saved itself headaches by streamlining the process. Other counties, she said, have multiple people across multiple courtrooms handling the cases, each offering different opinions on Proposition forty-seven cases. Still other counties demand that petitioners show up before the judge at the courthouse where the sentence was originally handed down.

“We worked out a lot of things. Being in one court, we’ve waived the provision to hear (the petition) before the original judge. It’s helped us in terms of streamlining,” Koller said, “The man-hours we keep in are extraordinary, but we've streamlined it.”

In Yolo County, executive there are hoping for a breather, calling Proposition forty-seven a well-intentioned, but taxing, strain on limited resources.

“We’re hoping the (numbers of) filings will flatten,” said Landry, whose courthouse staff has received about 2.000 Proposition forty-seven filings atop of the 40.000 criminal and civil filings it gets annually. “It doesn’t sound love a lot, but it’s pretty paper-intensive.”

Jeff Reisig, Yolo County district attorney, doesn’t mince words. He's a vocal opponent of Proposition forty-seven and the strain it puts on his and other tiny county district attorney’s offices.

He likens the work on the filings to “an extensive research project,” says his five secretaries, who dedicate two hours each day to working through the paper and talks about his helper chief’s desk stacked high with petitions.

“We’re not getting money for 47. The petitions process requires a significant quantity of work. We’ve definitely seen an expand in the complexity of the caseload,” Reisig said. “We’re love a MASH unit. We see for ways to expand efficiency … but it’s been a nightmare. The impact on smaller counties feels love it’s been a major impact because we’re so small.”

In Sacramento, prosecutor Shakely is more sanguine.

“That’s the will of the people, and we’re doing our best to implement it. We do the best we can with the present resources,” she said. “We’re not bursting at the seams. We’re government workers. We absorb it and do it.”

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