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Governors plan dangerous to public safety, say local district attorneys
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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to commute the sentences of illegal aliens and reduce several felony crimes to misdemeanors was universally rejected by California prosecutors on Monday.
Stanislaus and Merced County District Attorney’s Birgit Fladager and Larry Morse II joined their colleagues in calling the governor’s plan “dangerous to public safety.”
The governor’s plan is a two-fold proposal. The first part would commute the sentences of about 19,000 undocumented inmates in California and transfer them over to the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Prosecutors up and down the state decried the plan, saying criminals should be held accountable for their crimes, regardless of their immigration status.
The second part of the proposal would reduce “wobbler” offenses — crimes that can be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors — to straight misdemeanors. These crimes would include auto theft, grand theft, identity theft, and other fraud offenses.
The governor’s office said the plan could save the state $180 million.
The California District Attorney’s Association delivered a letter to the governor on Monday urging him to abandon a plan that they say would irrevocably harm the state’s criminal justice system.
“We cannot allow public safety to be compromised in a headlong rush to cut state costs,” Morse said. “There are alternatives available to the governor and legislative leaders that do not sacrifice our obligation to protect the safety of Californians. The first responsibility of any government is to ensure the safety of its citizens.”
The CDAA took special exception to the reduction of felonies to misdemeanors, saying it would “subvert prosecutorial efforts in numerous ways.”
The plan could create significant hurdles toward lowering the rate of auto thefts in Stanislaus County.
“Modesto and Stanislaus County have previously been characterized as ground zero for auto theft and methamphetamine production,” Fladager said. “To reduce the crimes of auto theft and methamphetamine possession to misdemeanors would seriously jeopardize law enforcement’s ability to investigate, district attorneys’ ability to prosecute and judges’ ability to hold convicted criminals accountable for the full extent of their conduct and harm the community.”
The letter concludes by urging the governor to consider addressing the problem on an emergency basis, which he is empowered to do under the state Constitution. “We believe you should consider a temporary solution that does not restructure our system of justice to the detriment of our citizens,” the letter states.
The CDAA represents 57 elected district attorneys, 12 prosecuting city attorneys and more than 2,600 deputy district attorneys, deputy city attorneys and deputy attorneys general statewide.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.