Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure to overhaul criminal sentencing says those convicted of a “nonviolent felony offense” would be potentially eligible for parole.
However, it doesn’t define the term, and that makes figuring out which felons could qualify for parole difficult — perhaps by design, to minimize adverse voter reaction.
The California District Attorneys Association, which opposes the measure, assumes that parole would be possible for any felony except the 23 crimes listed in Penal Code Section 667.5(c), such as murder, that are deemed particularly violent.
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Thus, it would make dozens of crimes that most of us consider to be violent parole-eligible, including assault with a deadly weapon, soliciting murder, intimidating or harming a crime victim or witness, resisting arrest that injures a police officer, violent elder or child abuse, arson with injury, human trafficking and several forms of manslaughter.
Dan Newman, a spokesman for Brown’s campaign, confirmed that the association’s interpretation is correct but added that anticipated rules would also make registered sex offenders ineligible for parole.
Brown says he wants to undo a “determinate sentence” law he signed nearly four decades ago, during his first stint as governor, and thus give felons a chance to earn parole by good behavior. It would build on federal court rulings that reinstate parole for some inmates.
Brown has said he considered making those who commit even the most violent crimes parole-eligible, but backed off because of strong law enforcement opposition. The opposition is still there, however, particularly since his proposal builds on two other recent measures that soften penalties for crimes.
Thousands of prisoners have walked under those laws, and law enforcement groups say they have already seen a bothersome uptick in crime. Prosecutors contend that Brown’s parole measure would lead to dangerous criminals being put on the streets.
It’s somewhat disingenuous for Brown to claim that the measure would apply to “nonviolent felony offenses” when unwinding the verbiage reveals that it applies to many despicably violent crimes.
The obtuse wording is also the latest example of the extraordinary steps Brown has taken to place it on the ballot.
He offered it early this year not as a stand-alone proposal, but as an amendment to an existing proposal dealing with juvenile crime. The DAs sued, contending that Brown was circumventing procedures meant to give notice to the public about ballot measures, and won a Superior Court ruling, which Brown is now appealing to the state Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, when it seemed as if he couldn’t get enough signatures in time to qualify the parole measure for the November ballot, Brown signed a hastily drafted bill to give local election officials a wad of state money if they processed measures whose signatures were submitted by May 20.
It bought Brown an extra three weeks, and he submitted a million signatures last Friday.
“Whatever it takes to get this done will be taken,” Brown said when he unveiled the measure.
So it would seem.