Proposition 47 in the Courts: Workload Impacts
California superior courts received more than 200,000 petitions for resentencing or applications for reclassification during the first 13 months after voters approved Proposition 47.
A report prepared by Judicial Council staff looked at petitions generated by the criminal justice realignment measure from its effective date in November 2014 through December 2015.
"Proposition 47 hit many trial courts like a paper tsunami, and we are still cleaning up," said Judge David Danielsen, San Diego Superior Court's Supervising Judge, Criminal Division. "Not only have we seen significant workload increases associated with individuals seeking relief under the proposition, but it’s also changed how the courts and justice system partners handle all criminal cases. Prop 47 has unsettled the system, and each part or agency is adjusting its thinking.”
The Judicial Council staff report, compiled by surveys, phone interviews, and site visits, highlights the impacts of the ballot measure on the courts during the first year of implementation, including:
- The need to redirect court resources and staff to handle Prop 47 matters, especially in the first eight months, when no new funding was available;
- Increased complexity in both felony and misdemeanor cases; and
- Limited efficiencies associated with the changes brought by Prop 47, at least during its first year.
Some courts indicate that the new law has enabled them to focus more attention on serious cases, resulting in “better justice” for the public.
Voters passed Prop 47, “The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act,” on November 4, 2014, and it went into effect the following day. The initiative:
- Reclassified certain theft and drug possession offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
- Authorized defendants already serving sentences for those felony offenses to petition courts for resentencing under the new misdemeanor provisions.
- Authorized defendants who had completed their sentences for felony convictions on those offenses to apply for reclassifying the convictions to misdemeanors.
In the current fiscal year, courts received approximately $27 million in additional funds to offset resentencing costs connected with Prop 47. The Governor's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016–17 recognizes that California courts will continue to carry increased workloads related to resentencing and proposes $21.4 million to offset those costs.