Facing a massive crisis in prison overcrowding, California’s Assembly passed a bill to allow prosecutors to charge certain cases involving possession of cocaine, meth, heroin, ecstasy, hashish and other “hard drugs” as “wobblers,” meaning it is up to the prosecutors’ discretion whether to charge the defendant with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed that bill, claiming it was premature, since California is soon to be performing a top-to-bottom review of state sentencing guidelines for all crimes. “That will be the appropriate time to evaluate our existing drug laws,” wrote Gov. Brown in his veto statement.
Thirteen other states have such drug sentencing wobblers, according to State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) who sponsored the bill. “It’s quite surprising that the governor would veto a modest attempt at sentencing reform in light of our prison overcrowding crisis,” Leno remarked, while reiterating the fact that there are over four thousand inmates currently in California prisons for simple drug possession.
The usual coterie of law enforcement organizations, including the associations of the California state sheriffs, police chiefs, and district attorneys, lined up against the sentencing reform, claiming that reductions of drug felonies to drug misdemeanors would reduce the leverage of the criminal justice system in forcing drug users into “voluntary” drug rehabilitation. People sentenced with felonies must be put behind bars, but people sentenced with misdemeanors often see little jail time, thanks to the prison overcrowding this defelonization bill is meant to reduce.
You read that right. Prisons are so crowded that cops and prosecutors must oppose a bill to reduce prison overcrowding because people with drug misdemeanors wouldn’t go to jail because the prisons are too crowded. And they wonder what we’re smoking?
Gov. Brown’s rejection of a bill creating drug felony wobblers is especially suspect when you recognize that the State of California already has a huge list of non-drug crimes that can be charged as wobblers. You could resist an officer to the point of causing a death, use a gun to threaten a witness into not testifying, assault a juror, be willfully cruel to or lewd and lascivious with a child, inflict a traumatic injury on your spouse while violating a protective order, fail to register as a violent sexual predator, draw a semi-automatic weapon in a day care, pass fake checks, make fake IDs, tap someone’s phone without a warrant, and sell armor-piercing rounds, and all of those crimes could be charged as a misdemeanor.
But if you’re caught making a single gram of butane hash oil in California, you’re going to serve felony time, even if one of those other crimes has to be charged as a misdemeanor to make room for you in prison.