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Nevada County sheriff, district attorney discuss Prop 47’s effects

Grass Valley Police Sergeant Brian Blakemore walks through a trash ridden homeless encampment that has recently shown up along the Plaza Drive corridor last week. No one was contacted at the camp though a syringe suspected of being used to administer drugs, was properly disposed of.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

If laws are arrows in a prosecutor’s quiver, Proposition 47 removed a strong weapon used in fighting crime, local authorities said.

Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell said that Prop 47, which reduced some felony drug charges and other crimes to misdemeanors, stripped a tool from his office that he said helped defendants receive rehabilitation.

Its November 2014 passage means many defendants, now facing only misdemeanors, don’t receive additional resources and a better chance at rehab, Newell said.

“They’re either getting citations or kicked out the door,” Sheriff Keith Royal said. “There’s your revolving door.”

“They’re either getting citations or kicked out the door. There’s your revolving door.” — Sheriff Keith Royal on impact of Proposition 47

Newell, however, isn’t completely opposed to Prop 47. He said some drug cases should never rise to the threshold of a felony. However, the hit to his quiver hurt his effectiveness.

“When you lose any leverage, it’s not good from a prosecutor’s perspective,” Newell said.

According to Newell, charging someone with a felony shuttles them into supervised probation. That provides defendants with a level of supervision they don’t receive with a misdemeanor conviction.

The county’s top prosecutor said he’s found ways to get defendants into rehab despite the loss of certain felony charges. Someone with several misdemeanor convictions, instead of being offered a short jail sentence as a plea deal, might be given six months or a year. If that person can enter a treatment program, Newell allows one day of credit for each day in jail, effectively reducing the time spent behind bars.

“It’s always best when you can divert them from the system at some point,” Newell said.

Prop 47 affected several crimes, Royal said.

Shoplifting items over $400 in value was a felony before Prop 47. Now the items must exceed $950, the same amount for grand theft, the sheriff said.

Newell said that possession of heroin and cocaine also once were felonies. That’s no longer the case.

“Forgery used to be a felony,” Royal added. “Now it has to be over $950.”

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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