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California Judicial Council Neglects Drug Crime Reclassification

The Judicial Council of California, an official body of the state's court system, is excluding drug crimes from a proposal that certain crimes be reclassified to a lower level in order to relieve court and prison overcrowding. The proposal, issued by the Criminal Standing Advisory Committee, is open for public comment until December 16, 1994.

The proposal lists lists some 40 felonies in the Penal Code that it recommends be made optionally punishable as misdemeanors at the prosecution's discretion, including incest, pandering, misprision of treason, battery on a custodial officer, falsification of trial documents, and possession of counterfeiting equipment.

However, it does not include any felonies from the Health and Safety Code, where drug crimes are listed. Incredibly, it states that the "omitted defenses [sic] do not constitute a significant part of the courts' docket." Drug offenses actually account for about 25% of all felony arrests. According to Administrative Office of the Courts attorney John Toker, the reason that drug offenses were omitted is that they are too "controversial."

The Judicial Council report also proposes that most misdemeanors be made optionally punishable as infractions at the prosection's discretion. It lists some 150 crimes as exceptions whose penalty should not be reduced. Among these are such drug misdemeanors as possession of paraphernalia and use or being under the influence of a controlled substance.

The California Drug Policy Reform Coalition argues that personal cultivation of marijuana and simple possession of cocaine and heroin, and minor drug sales should be included in the list eligible for misdemeanor prosecution; and that possession of paraphernalia and use or being under the influence of a controlled substance (misdemeanors) be punishable as infractions.

Persons wishing to comment on the Criminal Standing Advisory Committee's proposal should call or fax by December 16th (Friday) to John Toker, Administrative Office of the Courts, 303 Second St., South Tower, San Francisco CA 94107, (415) 396-9129 (phone), (415) 396-9358 (fax). Copies of the report are also available from this address.

The California Drug Policy Reform Coalition can be reached at 2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco, CA 94114, (415) 563-5858, E-mail: [email protected].

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