Ahead of California's criminal justice reforms to reduce mass incarceration, prosecutors are locking in plea deals forcing defendants to give up the rights they're about to get

If you enter into a plea deal in California today, your prosecutor will likely make you promise not to use any future legal reforms to get out of jail earlier than is stipulated in your plea — that way, you won't be able to take advantage of the slate of criminal justice and sentencing reforms passed by the California legislature and voted in by Californians through ballot initiatives.

But word of the waiver even in limited use raised protests from defense lawyers and criminal justice reform advocates. They said that prosecutors were making an end-run around the Legislature and voters, largely out of frustration at the wave of changes the state has made to the criminal justice system.

"The ground is shifting underneath them," said Kate Chatfield, the co-founder and former policy director of the reform group Re:store Justice. "They don't like it. And that's shameful."

Chatfield's group was instrumental in the Legislature passing a bill this year that changed the felony-murder rule so that accomplices who did not do the actual killing would no longer face murder charges, as they had in the past. The law was retroactive — meaning hundreds of inmates serving prison sentences have now gone back to courts, seeking a lower sentence. That is just one of several measures — including Three Strikes reform, a measure that reduced felonies to misdemeanors and is also retroactive — that have remade the face of criminal courts in California.

After waves of criminal justice reforms, prosecutors now want to lock in pleas, ask defendants to give up future rights
[Greg Moran/San Diego Union Tribune]