Governor Signs Bill to Protect Innocent People from Criminal Court Fees
This week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 355, a bill to ensure that only individuals convicted of a crime are required to repay the courts for court-appointed legal representation, which can amount to thousands of dollars.
Under current California law, an innocent person who is charged with a crime, refuses to accept a plea deal, goes to trial, and then is found not guilty, can still be forced to reimburse the court for the cost of their public defender or other court-appointed legal representation.
The bill would also take away prosecutors’ ability to pressure defendants to take a plea deal by threatening them with the cost of having to pay legal fees if they choose to go to trial. This prosecutorial practice can lead to innocent people pleading guilty in exchange for waived court fees.
“Under current criminal law, a low-income, homeless or impoverished person who is accused of a crime that they did not commit can still be ordered to pay the costs of a court-appointed attorney,” said bill co-author, CA Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). “We are pleased to have the governor support our #EquityAndJustice reforms. We are hopeful that he will continue to be a partner as the remaining #EquityAndJustice bills make their way to his desk.”
Other bills in the package by Sens. Mitchell and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) include SB 190, which would get rid of administrative fees for kids’ juvenile justice system-involvement, and SB 180, which would do away with a sentence enhancement for a repeat non-violent drug offense. SB 190’s next (yet unscheduled) stop is the Assembly Appropriations Committee. SB 180 next heads to the Assembly floor for a vote.
This week, California Assembly deadlocked 32-32 on a separate bill that means to reduce harsh sentence enhancements. SB 620 aims to loosen a currently mandatory sentence enhancement of 10 years (or more) for people who use guns in the commission of a felony. The bill, introduced by CA Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would give judges the power to decide whether or not to impose the enhancement, based on mitigating circumstances and other information. The bill can be reintroduced to the floor if the bill’s supporters can drum up more votes.
SB 395, which would require that kids under the age of 18 consult with an attorney before they are interrogated by police, and before they waive their Miranda rights, heads for the Assembly floor.
A bill headed for an Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing, SB 394, would bring California into compliance with a US Supreme Court ruling that the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decision—which declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional—must be applied retroactively.
The final bill in the package would seal arrest records for people arrested but not convicted of a crime. SB 393 is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Brown Signs Re-Entry Services Bill
Governor Brown signed a second noteworthy criminal justice bill this week. AB 683 will launch inmate re-entry pilot programs in seven California counties: Alameda, Imperial, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, San Joaquin, Santa Clara.
“AB 683, Cultural Re-Entry Programs seeks to rectify social and systemic barriers facing incarcerated and previously incarcerated men and women,” said Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella). “This legislation takes critical steps toward healing, empowering and strengthening our communities.”
The programs will focus on job training and education, providing leadership opportunities for participants, and expanding mental health resources, according to Garcia.
“To reduce recidivism it is essential to employ restorative justice programs and build bridges toward reconciliation and healthy family relationships,” Garcia said. “Studies show that this type of work is key both to improving post release outcomes as well as drastically improving the trajectory for children of the incarcerated.”
AG Becerra Says Police Shooting Investigations Should Stay Local
Earlier this week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra threw his weight behind a bill, AB 284, which will launch a study within the AG’s Office of past officer-involved shootings between 2015-2016.
AG Becerra backed the bill only after author Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) compromised by removing a portion of the bill that would have created an independent unit within the CA District Attorney’s Office to investigate incidents in which officers shoot civilians and civilians shoot officers.
“Deadly force incidents leave a lasting imprint on our communities and the officers involved,” said Becerra. “We need to develop targeted, effective solutions that can prevent the likelihood of these incidents. AB 284 will, for the first time, take a comprehensive look that ensures facts, not innuendo, guide state policy.”
The state’s top prosecutor said he aims “to ensure that appropriate policies, training and oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place to keep our communities and peace officers safe.”
Becerra said he believed it was best to keep shooting investigations local.
After the AG announced his support, the bill was approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee.
Members of Sacramento’s NAACP chapter and other local advocate groups were frustrated with the watered-down bill, the Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff reported. Community members gathered at the state capitol to express their displeasure at the removal of the portion of the bill that would have created an independent unit to investigate
Normally, local DA’s offices investigate shootings, but critics worry that local prosecutors’ working relationship with law enforcement agencies, as well as pressure from law enforcement unions, may lead to bias in favor of letting problem officers off the hook.