Merced court officials are reviewing more than 200 petitions from people seeking to reduce their felony convictions in the wake of the recent passage of Proposition 47.
The measure, which passed in November with nearly 60 percent of voter support, allows certain drug and theft convictions to be converted from felonies to misdemeanors. The effort sought to reduce California’s bloated prison population and to divert some funding to schools and substance abuse services, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
Attorneys in Merced County have been flooded with petitions seeking to adjust criminal convictions since the bill passed.
The offices of the county’s district attorney and public defender said the increased caseload has further burdened their overworked and understaffed agencies.
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Linda Romero-Soles, chief executive at Merced Superior Court, said she doesn’t believe the petitions have added any undue burden to the criminal court’s clerk staff.
“It’s really just like any other mandate we get,” Romero-Soles said this week. “I don’t think it’s really been a problem in terms of workload.”
The new law has been criticized by law enforcement in Merced County, particularly District Attorney Larry Morse II, Merced police Chief Norman Andrade and Sheriff Vern Warnke.
Earlier this month, Warnke described the measure as a “bill of goods” that was misrepresented to the public by its supporters. The only positive benefit of the new law, Warnke said, was a sudden drop in bookings into the county jail. He was skeptical of that decline, however, saying it would do nothing for general public safety.
The downward trend in jail bookings appears to be slowing. Bookings in January this year fell by more than 25 percent compared with January 2014. Bookings in February this year fell by only 5 percent compared to the same time last year, according to Capt. Greg Sullivan.
“There are many reasons these numbers move around. It’s very hard to say why; some of it could even just be seasonal,” Sullivan said. “But the daily population (numbers are) gradually crawling back up.”
Supporters of the measure trumpeted the additional money that would go to schools and treatment programs.
That new funding, however, is not expected in the schools until next year, the Merced County Office of Education confirmed.
MCOE spokesman Nathan Quevedo said it remains unclear exactly how much funding may come to Merced schools or how it could be distributed.
Lawmakers in Sacramento are scrambling to change parts of the new law that restricted DNA collection from some people convicted of the newly reclassified misdemeanors. Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, announced a new bill that would restore law enforcement’s ability to collect that genetic information.
Sun-Star staff writer Rob Parsons can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.