Tulare County, rest of state see eye-to-eye on Prop. 25

Voters writ large in California and Tulare County resoundingly agree to keep money-bail system by voting down Proposition 25

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County and the rest of California rarely align when it comes to politics. But on Proposition 25 everyone said a resounding, no.

The veto proposition on this year’s ballot proposed upholding Senate Bill 10, which passed in August 2018, with a “yes” vote. The legislation changed California’s pretrial release system from a money-based system to a risk-based release and detention system. A “no” vote – which eventually carried the day by a 56.4% to 43.6% statewide margin – repealed the law. Locally, Tulare County residents didn’t just tell the state no, they yelled it.

Almost 71% of voters said they wanted a money-based system over the risk-based system. Tulare County District Attorney, Tim Ward, said he believes that people in the county are “fed up” with the revolving door at the jail. He said that families, business owners and law enforcement have all been affected by the quick turnaround of releases. In particular after the pandemic forced courts to rush arraignments to keep jails from overcrowding. Unfortunately, that meant officers all over the county have arrested the same suspect several times.

The DA’s office issued a press release on Nov. 20 stating that half of those released ended up reoffending. The press release states that 100 inmates have been ordered to be released in light of the pandemic.

“While it is a sad fact that half of these inmates released are facing new charges, the real travesty is that about one-third of these repeat offenders are now facing felony charges involving crimes such as robbery, kidnapping, and domestic violence,” Ward said.

Ward told the Tulare County Board of Supervisors in a presentation last month that reoffenders are not out of the norm. According to his presentation, 30% of his annual caseload are from reoffenders. Ward looked on that number as a good sign that there is not a proliferation in criminals in the community.

Ward continued in his Nov. 20 statement to say that while voters said they wanted a money-bail model, zero-dollar bail under COVID will remain for now. However, it is not without some benefits to his prosecutor’s operations.

“Unfortunately, the court notified us…that other emergency provisions will continue, and that no order was given to rescind zero-dollar bail. I do support some modification to court operations which allow parties to appear in court via remote technology, but I have been very vocal about opposing these early release schemes,” Ward said.

All of this is not to say that money-bail alone is without its flaws, and does not necessarily have much to do with public safety. Ward said a good example was the case of Cheyanne Wiley. After driving drunk and colliding with a family that eventually killed two people and left another critically injured, she was able to make bail and walked out of the court house after the weekend.

Ward would prefer the system have a money component paired with a risk assessment. However, an algorithm over whether someone should be released is not the risk assessment Ward has in mind. And neither does the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Coalitions that are normally at odds any other time, came together for SB10’s repeal this November.

California’s three ACLU affiliates opposed SB 10, issuing a joint statement that said, “SB10 is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that California should strive for.”

The statement called for new legislation to, “address racial bias in risk assessment tools.” ACLU of Northern California executive director Abdi Soltani said the group would not, however, align with bail bond businesses to overturn SB10.

“Make no mistake, the bail industry is not interested in equal justice or equal protection under the law, they are seeking to turn back the clock to protect their bottom line,” Soltani said.

Local bail bond companies were unable to be reached in time for this article.

Prop. 17

Where California and Tulare County were nearly in lockstep over Proposition 20, they could not be any more opposite over Proposition 17. The constitutional amendment to allow people on parole for felony convictions to vote in the state passed overall by a margin of 58.6% to 41.4%. Locally it failed by almost the same margin, 58.87% of voters said no, while 41.13% of voters said yes.

The affirmative vote statewide lifts the restrictions that people with felonies on parole to complete their sentence before they can vote. However, people who are imprisoned still cannot vote.

Ward said that Prop. 17 has little to do with his office outside of fact that his position is elected. And in his experience people on parole have held a neutral view of prosecutors. Ward said that he visited a prison as a prosecutor, before he was district attorney, and in order to reach the administrative office he walked by the prison yard while the inmates were out. He said that he realized that he was paying more attention to them, than they were him.

Eventually he brought it up to prison administration he was meeting with and they told him not many inmates have malice toward prosecutors. They generally view them as people just doing their job. But they do tend to blame defense attorneys for the reason they went to prison.

Ward said that the Prop. 17 decision affirmed that his office should try cases as fairly as possible.

“I’m going to think did we [try a case] ethically and did we do it responsibly…we are going to fight a good fight and we are going to fight it fairly,” Ward said.

Prop. 20

Proposition 20 regarding changes to criminal sentencing and supervision policies put the state and Tulare County at odds. Statewide the proposition was shot down by a gigantic margin: 61.7% to 38.3%. In Tulare County, it passed by a reasonably solid margin with 53.44% voting “yes,” and 46.56% voting “no.”

“I was amazed that 20 died as strongly as it did and 25 passed as strongly as it did,” Ward said.

He added that the proposition was written in such a way that it was confusing for voters, which could have been the reason why it was defeated so soundly. Proposition 20 was designed to make a bevy of changes to AB 109 that passed in 2011, Proposition 47 that passed in 2014 and Proposition 57 that passed in 2016—three measures that were each intended to reduce the state’s prison inmate population.

Ward said in a presentation to the board of supervisors last month that felony submitted theft-related cases have begun to rise. Between 2013 to 2016 cases of this kind dropped from roughly 1,200 to just over 500. Once the effect of Proposition 47 began to materialize felony submitted theft-related cases began to increase from 2016 through 2019. Ward called it the “Prop 47 Effect” in his presentation to the board.

More specifically Prop 47 requires that defendants are sentenced to misdemeanors, instead of felonies, for “non-serious, nonviolent crimes,” unless they have prior convictions for murder, rape and certain sex offenses or certain gun crimes. Ward believes that turning felonies into misdemeanors has worked to push thieves back into the community just to have them reoffend. And the DA’s statistics tend to bear that out.

Proposition 20 would have made specific types of theft and fraud crimes, including firearm theft, vehicle theft, and unlawful use of a credit card, chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than just misdemeanors. It would have also required persons convicted of certain misdemeanors that were classified as wobblers or felonies before 2014, such as shoplifting, grand theft, and drug possession, along with several other crimes, including domestic violence and prostitution with a minor, to submit to the collection of DNA samples for state and federal databases.

It also would have required the parole review board to consider additional factors, such as the felon’s age, marketable skills, attitudes about the crime and mental condition, as well as the circumstances of the crimes committed, before deciding whether to release a felon on parole. And it would have allowed prosecutors to request a review of the board’s final decision.

As of now, counties are responsible for supervising paroled felons convicted of non-serious and non-violent crimes, as defined in law, and who were not classified as high-risk sex offenders nor classified as needing treatment from the state Department of Mental Health. Counties had discretion on whether to petition the judicial system to change a felon’s post-release supervision terms or status. Proposition 20 would have required local probation departments to ask a judge to change the conditions or status of a felon’s post-release supervision if the felon violated supervision terms for the third time.

With so much to consider on the proposition it’s possible people voted “no” down the ballot or did not take the time to understand all that was involved. Ward said that he was impressed with local voters’ understanding of nuance when it came to the proposition.

“I’m’ very pleased that the voters of Tulare County understand the nuances and complexities of this,” Ward said.

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