Civil legal aid providers help formerly incarcerated people reduce felony convictions under Prop 47.
Contra Costa Times
July 24, 2015
Organizations mentioned/involved: East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC)
Proposition 47, passed last November, was intended to give people convicted of certain nonviolent felonies a fresh start. The voter initiative changed simple drug possession and property crimes under $950 from felonies to misdemeanors. It is retroactive, and an estimated 1 million who have old convictions or are on probation or parole may be eligible for felony reduction.
Now, lawmakers, probation and court staff, community organizations, pro-bono attorneys, public defenders, advocates for the formerly incarcerated, and churches are organizing clinics to get the word out before the law expires in November 2017 and the window of opportunity closes.
At a recent Hayward clinic, attorneys from the Alameda County Public Defender and the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) provided free legal advice to some two dozen people throughout the day. Attorneys and law students under their supervision evaluated the rap sheets of formerly incarcerated people to determine which felonies might be eligible for Proposition 47 relief or if not, some form of dismissal.
The criminal justice bureaucracy is daunting. Individuals must file a separate petition for each conviction that is not part of the same case at the courthouse where they were sentenced. So if someone has multiple convictions in different cities — even within the same county — it can be a logistical nightmare. Different judges will review the same Proposition 47 petition from the same individual to determine whether he deserves a felony reduction based upon evidence of rehabilitation, whether he has paid his fines and restitution, among other factors.
“It’s very burdensome,” says Eliza Hersh, director of the East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate program, which provides pro bono re-entry legal services. “If California wants to invest in a more fair and efficient way to help people clean up their records and move on? There’s a way we can do that.”Tags: Community Outreach: Legal Rights Education, Criminal Justice, Expungement / Record Sealing