State Appeals Court Rules Judges May Dismiss Past Convictions to Allow Treatment Under Proposition 36
A state appellate court yesterday ruled that trial court judges can allow felons convicted "in recent years" to receive drug treatment under Proposition 36, the voter-approved initiative that sends nonviolent first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment rather than jail, the Los Angeles Times reports. Legal analysts predict that the 17-page decision will "clear up confusion" for judges over who qualifies for treatment under the law, which "read that defendants who have been convicted of serious and violent felonies are eligible for drug treatment only if they have been out of prison for five years" (Gorman, Los Angeles Times, 1/16). In the case, prosecutors argued that Ronald Lee Varnell, convicted for drug possession last year, did not qualify for treatment under Proposition 36 "because he was convicted in 1995 of assault with a deadly weapon and released three years before he was arrested last year on the drug charge" (AP/Sacramento Bee, 1/16). Attorneys for Varnell asked a trial court judge to dismiss the felony conviction and place him in drug treatment, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ana Luna ruled that Proposition 36 "did not allow her that power." However, in the decision yesterday, the appellate court ruled that trial court judges may dismiss past convictions "for the purposes of sentencing." The court also ordered Luna to hold a new sentencing hearing for Varnell but did not require her to place him in drug treatment, the Times reports. Deputy Public Defender Alex Ricciardulli said that the appellate court decision "further extends the umbrella of rehabilitation." Marc Nolan, who argued the case for the state attorney general's office, disagreed and said that the ruling "doesn't necessarily change the result in this case or any other case" (Los Angeles Times, 1/16).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.