With California’s prisons overflowing Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill to provide more wiggle room in some drug offenses under California law. A San Francisco lawmaker had proposed a bill to provide judges and prosecutors more discretion in making some drug crimes misdemeanor level offenses rather than felonies. While the law would not have given criminal defense lawyers more discretion, the proposed availability of discretionary decisions available in the criminal justice system certainly was of interest on the defense side of the bar.
The bill passed both legislative houses as it could have caused a dent in the prison overcrowding issue in California. Some commentators say that the drug reform measure may not have gone far enough. Many California voters, lawmakers and advocates say that California’s drug laws lead to too far many people being placed in prison for drug possession offenses, costing taxpayers far too much, overburdening the bulging prison system and resulting in cruel punishment for the nature of the alleged offense.
The bill was aimed at a number of substances, including heroin, cocaine and other drugs. Currently, possession of some things, including methamphetamine and LSD, may be charged as misdemeanors or felonies. The recent measure sought to expand the number of controlled substances that would be included as drugs known as “wobblers,” or those substances that possessory offenses could be brought as misdemeanors in some cases.
The measure was vetoed Saturday. The bill only applied to simple possession cases.
The veto does not affect a person’s right to a criminal defense. In fact, the bill did not propose to make all possessory offenses necessarily a misdemeanor-level offense. While the veto is a blow to drug reform in California, it does nothing to change a person’s constitutional right to challenge the state’s allegations in a drug crime case.
Source: Huffington Post, “California Deals Major Blow To Drug-Sentencing Reform," Oct. 15, 2013