Isn't it great to be a criminal these days in California?
It's been a week since Proposition 47 passed and already more than 10,000 alleged forgers, bad check writers, folks who receive stolen property, and shoplifters as well as those committing fraud and grand theft either have received a get out of jail card or are having pending charges reduced to the equivalent of a parking ticket. That also goes for the personal use of most illegal drugs.
At least 4,000 criminals in prison are now eligible for hearings to reconsider their sentences and essentially let them go free
Gee, maybe on the next statewide ballot we can skip the preliminaries and just legalize purges where criminals are free to do whatever they wish one night a year - shoplift, sell drugs, rape and murder. Proponents could talk glowingly of the legislative analyst determining that government could save hundreds of millions of dollars a year by giving law enforcement the night off and not having the costs of investigating crimes, making arrests, conducting trials and providing those found guilty with jail or prison time.
Plus there's the added bonus that federal judges that tend to live in more exclusive neighborhoods where crime is at a minimum will be thrilled that California is emptying its prisons as they deemed the constitution demands.
Yes, Prop. 47 - The Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative - does reduce the cost of government. And yes, it does reduce the workload for district attorneys and the courts.
But as Prop. 47 opponent Dianne Feinstein astutely pointed out, it also reduces the penalties for some serious crimes including the possession of cocaine and date rape drugs, identity theft, plus also reduces a wide range of crimes from misdemeanors to felonies.
It places a threshold that can't be exceeded of $950 for various property and financial crimes.
That doesn't sound horribly unreasonable until you realize that it includes the theft of firearms. Almost all firearms used in the commission of crimes are stolen. And given that the vast majority of such weapons are under $950, California voters were duped into - or perhaps with open eyes - making the consequences of stealing guns and purchasing them (as long as they under $950) the equivalent of a citation for loitering.
So a conviction now for stealing a gun or buying a stolen firearm now instead of leading to a maximum of three years in prison will end up possibly getting a criminal no more than 12 months in jail.
Proposition 47 was neatly sold as a way of decriminalizing drug use by reducing personal use infractions to misdemeanors.
The problem is in the fine print.
It basically is a step toward decriminalizing behavior that leads to rape and murder.
Why would anyone posses a date rape drug if their ultimate intent wasn't to have sex with someone who is unwilling to do so?
As for making property and money crimes under $950 no big deal, think again.
Various studies have indicated a typical burglar commits anywhere from 15 to 30 burglaries before they are caught. That is underscored by the clearance rate for residential burglaries handled by Ceres Police. The clearance refers to arrests made connected with crimes reported and not convictions.
For Ceres during 2013, there were 355 burglaries with arrests made in only 31 of those cases for an 8.7 percent clearance rate. Auto burglaries were worse. There were 287 auto burglaries with arrests in four cases for a 1.4 percent clearance rate.
A number of those cases especially auto burglaries - would qualify for catch and release tickets if the police manage to arrest a suspect. How's that for a deterrent?
All a smart criminal has to do is to make sure not to take anything valued at more than $949.99 during a burglary.
Pity merchants as Proposition 47 is essentially declaring open season on them. A lot of shoplifters are mobile going from town-to-town. Police might catch them but if they take under $950 worth of merchandise they've got to ticket and release them.
So what if shoplifting sky rockets? We're saving the government money. And who cares if the price of goods goes up as everyone else has to pay for the shoplifters' handiwork.
Perhaps California can use its ongoing effort to decriminalize crime to inspire a new state motto: "Steal a gun? That's the ticket."
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.