Post-57, Lawmakers Look to Expand the Definition of Violent Crime

What is a violent crime? On paper, the definition is murky and yet, as Los Angeles Times notes, clearing it up matters more than ever.

As California undergoes the largest overhaul of prison parole in a generation, determining which criminals are violent in the eyes of the state has taken on a new urgency among some lawmakers and law enforcement officials who argue it’s time to revisit how “violent crime” is legally defined.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, continues a statewide effort to increase rehabilitation services and decrease the prison population. Among its provisions, the initiative will give new power to the state parole board to consider the early release of prisoners who have served the full term of their primary sentences, and whose crimes are not designated as “violent” under the California penal code.

Needless to say, lawmakers like State Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) say it’s important to get some clarity. She’s trying to expand the number of violent felonies right now by about 20.

“There are many of them that really need a second thought,” said Bates. “If you put yourself in the position of a victim in any one of those crimes, you will say, ‘That was violent because that affected me physically and emotionally.’”

A bipartisan bill filed by Assemblywomen Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) would also add to the list.

Many local prosecutors are supporting one or both proposals. Similar efforts have failed in the past, but, with Proposition 57, it’s a whole different ballgame. The stakes are high.

Confusion over the definition of violent crimes came up repeatedly during the campaign. The most notorious spat happened in August when Gov. Jerry Brown left a now public voicemail message scolding Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims for her claim that sex offender Andrew Luster would be eligible for early release under Proposition 57. Brown went on to exclude all sex offenders from early parole consideration in his budget proposal. But some legal experts say the clarification really needs to be codified.