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Dan Walters on Proposition 57

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Dan Walters is the dean of journalists covering California politics.  It would be a slight exaggeration to say he has been doing it since God was in grade school.

Walters has this commentary for CALmatters on the recent Superior Court decision holding that Proposition 57 will make eligible for parole a broader array of felons than its proponents promised the people it would.

Indirectly, leniency would be allowed for quite a few felonies, such as sex crimes, that most of us would deem to be violent - and, in fact, are counted as violent offenses in crime data provided by the state Department of Justice.

Critics of Brown's measure - the state's prosecutors, particularly - pointed out the anomaly, and complained that if passed, it could allow some vicious predators to once again range freely.

In response, Brown publicly promised that by regulation, state prison officials would make sure that sex criminals would not benefit from Proposition 57's new leniency and voters apparently believed him, because they passed the measure.

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In essence, [Judge] Sumner is not only agreeing with John Doe, but also with the prosecutors who opposed Brown's measure in 2016, arguing that as written, it could require granting lenience to those who commit serious sex crimes.

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Brown's prison agency must now either rewrite the regulations, presumably to provide more leniency to John Doe and other sex criminals, or try to overturn Sumner's ruling on appeal.

The latter course is more likely, because rewriting the rules would, in effect, concede the issue to the prosecutors who criticized Proposition 57 as too vaguely drafted and too broad.

"We repeatedly warned prior to the election that the ambiguities of language in Prop 57 would allow sex offenders to be released early from prison," the Association of Deputy District Attorneys said after Sumner's ruling. "The proponents realized the public wouldn't support that, so led by Gov. Jerry Brown they responded by promising that CDCR would write regulations to make sure sex-offenders weren't released early."

"We knew that approach would fail," the ADDA continued, "because a regulation cannot expand the scope of the law that it purports to implement. Now, the completely foreseeable result of this poor drafting has occurred."

Were John Doe and several thousand other predatory sex criminals to waltz free despite Brown's campaign assurances, it also would put a stain on what he clearly hopes will be a legacy of criminal justice reform.

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