Proposition 47 is Exhibit A for why the initiative process should rarely, if ever, be used to monkey with the criminal justice system.
Consider the case of Matthew Christopher Jackson. He pleaded guilty in Orange County Superior Court to a variety of offenses including stealing a gun, which at the time was a felony.
In 2014, after he had been sentenced to prison, voters approved Proposition 47, a far-reaching and insufficiently considered initiative that reduced penalties for drug possession and many property crimes to misdemeanors.
Championed by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and the ACLU, and underwritten by liberals including the George Soros-funded Open Society Policy Center, Proposition 47 says stolen property must be worth more than $950 before prosecutors can charge thieves with a felony.
We recognize that too many people have been sentenced to prison for relatively minor crimes involving items worth far too little. But we also recognize that most handguns are valued at less than $950.
That’s why Jackson petitioned the appellate court to have his sentence reduced. Last month the California Court of Appeal for the 4th District agreed, ordering the trial court to determine whether the gun Jackson stole is worth less than $950. If it is, the judge should consider cutting Jackson’s sentence.
As so often happens, courts must clean up messes left by initiative promoters. Several appellate courts have decided Proposition 47-related gun theft cases in the thieves’ favor, and the California Supreme Court is weighing no fewer than 10 cases on other issues stemming from the measure’s passage.
Since an initiative created the loophole, voters would need to close it. Unfortunately, that comes at a price.
In 2014, our editorial board urged a no vote on the measure. We were listening to the urgent concerns of Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse, probation departments in both Merced and Stanislaus counties and police chiefs throughout the region.
As Turlock Police Chieft Rob Jackson pointed out, “People don’t steal guns to collect them; they’re planning to commit another crime. ... Take out everything else, and that’s enough for me.”
There is a certain irony in the gun-theft loophole created by Proposition 47. California lawmakers have approved some of the nation’s most far-reaching gun-control measures but pass a law that gives criminals a get-out-jail-free card for illegally procuring a gun.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, who touts her strong gun control position and whose office summarizes initiatives for the official ballot handbook, failed to mention the gun theft loophole in her summation of Proposition 47. During the campaign, Gascón discounted the gun theft loophole. Shoplifting a shirt or some food probably should not warrant a prison sentence. But theft of a gun is fundamentally different.
This month, legislators will vote on – and must approve – bills cowriteen by Assemblymembers Adam Gray, Jim Cooper (Elk Grove) and Melissa Melendez (Lake Elsinore) to plug the gun theft loophole created by Proposition 47.
Since an initiative created the loophole, voters will have to close it. The bills seek to place a new measure on the November ballot that would do that. The deadline for approving the measures is this month.
Unfortunately, it comes at a price. An analysis by legislative staffers estimates that it costs $55,000 to print each page in the voters’ handbook. A do-over will run four pages, maybe more.
Though it’s not likely, perhaps Gascón and the people who funded the $9.1 million Proposition 47 campaign could help defray the state’s costs.