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Calif. DAs Push Back on Sentence Reductions

SACRAMENTO (CN) - A ballot proposal relaxing sentencing terms, backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, skirted election filing laws and unlawfully jumped ahead of other measures, California district attorneys claimed Thursday in Superior Court.

The California District Attorneys Association seek writ of mandate to bar Attorney General Kamala Harris from processing the sentencing reform initiative. They claim the authors made last-minute changes and failed to give enough time for public comment.

The association and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Schubert say the plan's authors "are apparently now acting as agents of Gov. Jerry Brown" and that their sweeping amendments should be treated as a completely new initiative.

The changes include a California constitutional amendment repealing determinate sentencing laws and offering parole programs to thousands of inmates in state prisons.

"The new language is for all intents and purposes a new proposed measure unlawfully camouflaged as an amendment to an existing measure," the complaint states.

The measure would eliminate California's three-strikes law and repeal the 10-20-Life law passed by lawmakers in 1997. The district attorneys say the proposal "enacts early release policies intended to alleviate prison overcrowding."

In January , Brown called the amended Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016 "well-balanced" and an "important step" in incentivizing good inmate behavior and reducing the state's notoriously high prison population. The initiative also gives judges, not prosecutors, the authority to decide whether to try juveniles in adult court.

Brown helped enact determinate sentencing laws during his first term as governor in 1977. Critics claim the policy contributed to California's crowded prisons.

In addition to their substantive disagreements with the amendments, the district attorneys say the late changes prevented the state's legislative analyst from dissecting the measure. Instead of the mandated 50-day period, the district attorneys say, legislative analyst was given only 16 days to produce a fiscal analysis on the "extremely complex initiative."

They ask the court to prohibit the attorney general from issuing a title and summary for the initiative, to order the authors to resubmit paperwork, and an immediate writ of mandate preventing Harris from releasing the proposal for circulation.

If approved by Harris, the proposal would need at least 585,000 voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

The attorney general's spokeswoman Rachele Huenekkens told Courthouse News, "We are reviewing the lawsuit, but we respectfully disagree with CDAA's assessment of California's new law governing amendments to initiatives."

The district attorneys are represented by Thomas Hiltachk and Brian Hildreth with Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk in Sacramento.

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