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2014 measure leaves reduced prison sentences in voters' hands

There have been a number of changes to state and federal drug laws in the last few years. While some have increased penalties for certain crimes, others, such as those for crack cocaine convictions, have been lessened by state and federal authorities. The reason has a lot to do with the changing views on prison sentences for nonviolent crimes.

But more changes could soon be around the corner if California voters decide to pass a new ballot measure in November. Proposition 47, which is what the measure is called on the California Secretary of State's website, would lessen the severity of some nonviolent crimes, such as petty theft and drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanor offenses. This could mean major changes for future criminal charges as well as past convictions.

The biggest change is that reducing the severity of a conviction from a felony to a misdemeanor means that a person being charged with the nonviolent crimes above would face reduced sentences. For drug possession charges, a person may even have the opportunity to enter into drug treatment instead of serve a prison sentence.

The new measure will also allow the resentencing of those currently serving felony sentences for crimes that will change to misdemeanors. This could lead to a release due to time served or a person could see their sentence reduced.

It's important to point out to voters and our readers that this may not happen in every case. Those who have previous convictions for certain crimes or are registered sex offenders may still receive felony sentences. It will be important to discuss this with your legal counsel as it could impact your life significantly down the road.

Sources: Reuters, "California measure reducing sentences for nonviolent crimes heads to ballot," Sharon Bernstein, June 27, 2014

The California Secretary of State, "Qualified Statewide Ballot Measures, Proposition 47," Accessed July 3, 2014

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Former Criminal Prosecutor With Proven Results