Appeals Court Says Proposition 36 Applies to Those Convicted, But not Sentenced, Before July 1
The 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled yesterday that Proposition 36, the voter-approved initiative that sends nonviolent first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment instead of jail, does apply to people convicted but not sentenced before July 1, the date the law took effect, the Los Angeles Times reports. The ruling stems from the case of Janet DeLong, who was convicted in May of possessing less than one gram of cocaine. DeLong was denied access to treatment under Proposition 36 because she was charged and convicted of her crime before July 1. Superior Court Judge Stephanie Sautner on July 12 sentenced DeLong to three years probation, 150 days of which were to be served in a county jail, but the sentence was blocked by the appeals court after the Los Angeles County public defender's appealed the decision. In its ruling yesterday, the appeals court said that because Proposition 36 precludes people who violate probation or parole, "no rationale appears to exclude from its wide reach the limited class of defendants who, as of the effective date, had been adjudged guilty and were awaiting sentencing" (Krikorian, Los Angeles Times, 11/1). Noting that the proposition's goal is to rehabilitate defendants, the court added that "conviction" is complete "only when the judge pronounces final judgment and imposes sentence." In some counties, prosecutors and judges had taken a "narrower view," applying the initiative only to cases in which the jury verdict or guilty plea was given after July 1 (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/1).
The 3-0 decision is the first published opinion on the initiative; other California appeals courts are reviewing the issue. However, legal experts expect lower courts throughout the state to follow yesterday's decision. Special Counsel Lael Rubin said the Los Angeles district attorney's office did not plan to seek a review of the court's decision, saying, "It was a well-written opinion." Dave Fratello, who co-wrote Proposition 36, called the court's opinion a "victory for the intent of the initiative." He added, "Over time, this issue would have evaporated by itself simply because you would run out of people who were arrested and convicted before the effective date. But anything that gets more people into treatment fulfills the will of the voters, and that is why we welcome this ruling" (Los Angeles Times, 11/1).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.