California bill would allow collection of DNA in misdemeanor cases

Critics say proposal undermines the will of voters following Proposition 47

Proposition 47 was recently approved by Californians as a way of bringing greater fairness to the criminal justice system. The measure reclassified six felony offenses as misdemeanors, thus reducing the punishments associated with those offenses. Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, a bill put forward in Sacramento could undermine the intention behind Proposition 47's passage. The bill would allow DNA samples to be taken from people convicted of misdemeanors that were formerly considered felonies before Proposition 47 passed. Critics say the bill would disproportionately affect people charged with drug possession and treats minor offenses like felonies.

Proposition 47

According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Proposition 47 downgraded six felonies, including forgery, fraud, petty theft, minor drug possession, and shoplifting, to misdemeanors. The downgrade was significant as people charged with a felony face prison time and increased penalties for repeat offenses. With Proposition 47, those offenses formerly treated as felonies are now punishable by up to a year in jail.

Now, however, a bill has been introduced that critics say undermines voters' intentions. AB390 would allow police and law enforcement agencies to collect DNA samples from any person convicted of one of the misdemeanors that had been downgraded from felonies by Proposition 47. Under current law, DNA samples can only be taken from somebody who has been charged with a felony.

Criticisms mount

A Los Angeles Times editorial has come out strongly against the bill. It points out that collecting DNA samples from people convicted of a misdemeanor undermines the spirit of Proposition 47 as it essentially treats a misdemeanor as a felony. Critics claim that if Californians wanted such offenses subject to measures reserved for felonies then they would have rejected Proposition 47 in the first place.

Furthermore, because Proposition 47 primarily affected people charged with possession of small quantities of drugs, the DNA sample bill would disproportionately affect those convicted of possession. As critics point out, Proposition 47 proves that Californians consider minor drug possession to be a lesser offense nowadays than it was in the past, thus raising questions about why there is suddenly a need to treat such an offense differently from most other misdemeanors.

Drug offenses

As the above article shows, despite society having evolved considerably on the issue of drug crimes in recent years, laws do not always keep pace with popular attitudes. Anybody facing a charge related to drugs needs to get in touch with a criminal defense attorney immediately. Drug crimes remain serious offenses in California and an experienced attorney can help people in understanding the best way to respond to such charges.