The Kings County Superior Court’s workload is back to normal following a months-long deluge of paperwork related to Proposition 47.
California voters approved Proposition 47 on Nov. 4, 2014. The law, which reclassified certain theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, went into effect the following day.
Defendants already serving sentences for those crimes were able to petition courts for resentencing under the new guidelines. Those who had completed their sentences for specified felony offenses could apply to have their convictions reclassified as misdemeanors.
By the end of 2015, Kings County had received 1,008 resentencing petitions and 632 reclassification applications, according to the State Judicial Council of California.
Court Executive Officer Jeff Lewis said the paperwork hit the courts hardest during the first six to eight months after Proposition 47 went into effect.
Lewis said the court tasked four to five clerks with processing only Proposition 47 petitions. Initially, a single judge heard all of the cases. After the influx of new cases decreased, Lewis said, the cases were distributed to multiple judges.
Lewis said the court is currently processing few, if any, additional Proposition 47 petitions.
“Now we’re back to our normal,” Lewis said.
Based on 2015 population estimates from the California Department of Finance, Kings County had the fifth highest number of Proposition 47 petitions in the state, with about 11 petitions per 1,000 population.
Lewis said nearby Tulare County, with a population more than three times higher than Kings County, received a total of 1,240 Proposition 47 petitions. That’s about 2.7 petitions per 1,000 population.
“That’s clearly because we have three prisons,” Lewis said.
Avenal State Prison, Corcoran State Prison and the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison in Corcoran are all located in Kings County. While many of the inmates in those facilities were sentenced elsewhere, Lewis said, much of the paperwork stayed in Kings County.
“In most cases, we had those cases sent to us,” Lewis said. “But we did have a lot of Kings County citizens that were subject to this, too.”
Kings County District Attorney Keith Fagundes said court staff and the Kings County Probation Department handled the initial influx of paperwork. By January 2015, his office was reviewing more than 100 petitions per month.
“Now I think we might get four or five per attorney each month,” Fagundes said.
Lewis said each department had to cooperate to ensure no one worked on the same case multiple times.
Fagundes said Proposition 47 doesn’t appear to have increased the number of cases coming through the district attorney’s office. However, Fagundes said, repeat offenders appear to be committing more serious crimes believing they won’t serve any jail time.
“They think every crime is now a freebie,” Fagundes said.
Law enforcement agencies throughout Kings County have reported increases in property crimes like burglaries and vehicle theft since the law went into effect.