By SHEA JOHNSON
Posted Feb. 18, 2015 at 11:52 AM
Updated Feb 18, 2015 at 5:37 PM
SAN BERNARDINO — San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos is co-sponsoring a bill that would give authorities the ability to take DNA samples from defendants whose misdemeanor cases could have been charged as felonies prior to Proposition 47.
Ramos will join Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and state lawmakers Thursday in Sacramento to announce the bill intended to “fix part of the Prop. 47 collateral issues,” he told the Daily Press on Wednesday.
Under the retroactive proposition, penalties are reduced for drug possession and other non-violent felonies, including commercial burglary, forgery, grand theft and possession of a controlled substance. These crimes used to be “wobblers,” meaning that prosecutors had the discretion to charge them as either felonies or misdemeanors.
But as these crimes are now considered misdemeanors by Prop. 47, and DNA samples can’t be collected from defendants in misdemeanor cases, Ramos believes authorities have been largely restricted from access to a valuable crime-solving tool.
“Over 30 percent of those swabs ... we were solving some very serious crimes,” which included kidnappings and rapes, he said.
Ramos has joined forces with Schubert to address the dwindling DNA pool through proposed legislation.
Supporters of Prop. 47 have said that low-level offenders don’t deserve lengthy sentences in jail or prison and that the initiative will dramatically reduce incarceration costs and prison overcrowding.
A report released Tuesday by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office said that Gov. Jerry Brown’s estimate of 1,900 fewer inmates in fiscal year 2015-16 due to Prop. 47 is likely underestimated.
The report also said that Prop. 47 should eliminate “several hundred million dollars annually” throughout the state on workload for counties by freeing up county jail beds and probation department resources.
“While the state savings that will result from Proposition 47 is subject to significant uncertainty,” the report said, “we estimate that the annual savings will likely range from $100 million to $200 million beginning in 2016-17.”
But DNA collection hasn't been the only issued raised by Prop. 47 as Ramos and county Presiding Judge Marsha Slough have noted since the initiative’s advent in November.
Without the bargaining chip of lowering felonies to misdemeanors, the proposition has also ridden the incentive to push defendants into drug court, they said.
“Our drug court’s basically non-existent,” Ramos said.
Since November, 8,300 people in this county on felony probation were declared eligible for reduction to misdemeanor probation. So far, 1,700 have had their probation reduced.
“We continue to have these hearings on a weekly basis,” Ramos said, pointing out that about 50 to 60 percent get their petitions granted.
And 583 people in local custody as part of Assembly Bill 109 have had their charges reduced to misdemeanors, while 1,775 defendants have had their cases dropped to misdemeanors countywide.
Ramos was also critical of the notion that rehabilitation is a component of the proposition.
“There is no rehabilitation. There is no money,” he said. “No money is going to hit the books until Aug. 2016.”
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