Friday was the final day for California Governor Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills passed by state lawmakers this year. This is WLA’s third and final roundup of the fates of justice-related bills we’ve followed in 2016. (Here are parts one and two, in case you missed them.)
VETOED: BILL TO PROTECT VULNERABLE KIDS FROM WAIVING MIRANDA RIGHTS
On Friday, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 1052, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that would have restricted the way law enforcement officers can interrogate kids during a criminal investigation, and would have required juveniles suspected of crimes to consult with an attorney before they can waive their constitutional right to remain silent.
Three days later, on Monday, the US Supreme Court chose not to intervene in the case of Joseph H, a 10-year-old from Riverside who was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars for the murder of his abusive neo-Nazi father. Joseph waived his Miranda rights and confessed to the murder. When a police officer asked Joseph, who has developmental issues, if he understood his Miranda rights, the boy said, “Yes, that means I have the right to remain calm.”
In refusing to step in, the high court has effectively said that children as young as Joseph are competent enough to validly waive their right to remain silent. (Back in August WLA ran a story by the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback about SB 1052 and Joseph H’s plight.)
Back in California, Brown penned a particularly long veto message explaining his difficult decision to reject SB 1052 based on an incomplete understanding of the possible “ramifications” of the bill. Here’s a clip:
“In more cases than not, both adult and juvenile suspects waive these rights and go on to answer an investigator’s questions. Courts uphold these “waivers” of rights as long as the waiver is knowing and voluntary. It is rare for a court to invalidate such a waiver.
Recent studies, however, argue that juveniles are more vulnerable than adults and easily succumb to police pressure to talk instead of remaining silent. Other studies show a much higher percentage of false confessions in the case of juveniles.
On the other hand, in countless cases, police investigators solve very serious crimes through questioning and the resulting admissions or statements that follow.
These competing realities raise difficult and troubling issues and that is why I have consulted widely to gain a better understanding of what is at stake. I have spoken to juvenile judges, police investigators, public defenders, prosecutors and the proponents of this bill. I have also read several research studies cited by the proponents and the most recent cases dealing with juvenile confessions.
FELONIES FOR PROSECUTORS FALSIFYING EVIDENCE
Brown signed AB 1909, a bill to rein in prosecutorial misconduct in California by raising the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony for prosecutors who intentionally withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense.
“Those individuals who are willing to win a case at all costs, who abuse their power as officers of the court, must answer for their actions,” said the bill’s author, Assemblymember Patty Lopez (D-San Francisco).
JUVENILE JUSTICE DATA-GATHERING
A bill that aims to standardize the way California’s local probation departments gather and report data on the kids in the juvenile justice system, AB 1998, also made it past Brown’s desk on Friday.
Currently, there’s “no state-level capacity to track recidivism or other important outcomes” like education, mental health, and child welfare status. Nor does the current system capture data on outcomes based on types of probation violations, or by types of facilities in which kids are placed (juvenile hall vs. a camp, for example) and length of stay.
The bill, introduced by Assm. Nora Campos (D-San Jose), will create guidelines for how probation departments collect data and share it with the state. Unfortunately, the guidelines cannot be enforced.
“Racial disparity is perhaps the most important issue facing our juvenile justice system, and we need good data to guide our restorative efforts,” Campos said. “AB 1998 will help state and local governments develop better information on how state funds and local programs are contributing to community safety.”
JUVIE LOCK-UP FOR YOUNG ADULTS
Brown also signed SB 1004, which will launch pilot programs in five counties allowing 18 to 21-year-olds convicted of low-level youthful offenses to be placed in juvenile facilities, rather than adult facilities.
The bill, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), will make it easier for young offenders to have access to the education and support systems unique to juvenile detention centers. SB 1004’s pilot programs will be held in Alameda, Napa, Santa Clara, Nevada, and Butte Counties.
In his signing message, Brown calls the bill a “promising start” but calls on lawmakers to also “explore options such as non-custody based diversion.”
Under current law, many felony sex crimes—rape by force, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and others—disqualify those convicted from receiving a sentence of probation. Prison time must be served.
However, some forms of sexual assault—digital penetration of someone who is unconscious or too intoxicated to consent (a la Brock Turner), for example—does not carry a mandatory prison sentence. AB 2888 and AB 701 intend to bring these other nonconsensual sexual assaults onto the same level as what is currently legally considered rape.
Opponents of AB 2888 argued that the bill creates new mandatory minimum sentences, as justice reformers and lawmakers work to reduce the prevalence of mandatory minimums, which disproportionately affect people of color.
Also signed into law were AB 1744, which requires all counties to use the same standardized rape kit, and AB 2499, which forces the state Department of Justice to improve its database, so that victims of sexual assault can track the status of their kits.