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Understanding Recent Criminal Law Changes

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on December 14, 2018

In recent years, California has led the nation in criminal justice reforms, especially those designed to protect minors and the disabled. A number of bills were recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown and went into effect to change several statutes on the books. The passage of these bills is good news for anyone facing criminal charges, as well as those convicted who are facing lengthy prison terms.

Understanding these laws, and how they will help people in the criminal justice system, is important. These are either a Senate Bill (SB) or Assembly Bill (AB) with a number that designates each one. All were signed into law by Governor Brown on September 30, 2018, and chaptered by the Secretary of State.

SB-1437 Accomplice Liability for Felony Murder

This groundbreaking bill revised California’s felony murder rule. Prior to this, anyone who participated in certain felonies could be charged with murder if someone else involved in the felony offense killed a person or was killed. It was pure guilt by association. SB-1437 limits murder charges to the person who committed the killing, those who assisted the killer with the intent to take a life, and those who participated in the felony while acting with “reckless indifference” for human life.

This bill can be applied retroactively, so people convicted of murder due to the previous felony murder rule can petition for shorter sentences. This is a huge victory and an opportunity for many unfairly punished individuals to gain a release from prison.

SB-439 Jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court

Three bills were signed into law specifically aimed at young people in the criminal justice system. This one keeps children younger than 12 years of age out of the juvenile court system. Previously, there was no minimum age limit, so 10-year-olds could be detained in juvenile hall for something as minor as curfew violations.

Young children accused of serious offenses like murder and rape are not included in this bill and can still be brought to juvenile court.

SB-1391 Juveniles: Fitness for Juvenile Court

The second of three bills involving juveniles, SB-1391 changed the law so that 14- and 15-year-old defendants cannot be tried as adults in California. The idea behind this bill was to encourage rehabilitation for young people whose brains are still developing biologically. Through rehabilitation, these young people can become productive members of society, rather than entering adult prison with life sentences.

AB-1214 Juvenile Proceedings: Competency

This bill, long overdue, limits the amount of time children can be held in juvenile hall without a trial. In particular, it is for children deemed mentally incompetent, who are not able to understand the charges against them or assist with their own defense. Previously, there was no limit to how long young people could be kept in juvenile detention, whereas now they can only be detained for six to 18 months, then must be moved to a facility that can give them proper care.

SB-1421 Peace Officers: Release of Records

This bill increases public access to records on police officers who commit sexual assault or lie while on the job. Disciplinary reports were often shielded in the past and difficult to obtain, even if a police officer had been punished for sexually assaulting a person in custody. Now, these records can be more easily accessed and used to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions.

AB-748 Peace Officers: Video and Audio Recordings: Disclosure

In the same spirit, this bill requires police body camera footage to be released within 45 days when there is a shooting or use-of-force incident that results in a death or serious injury. Nearly 200 people were killed by California law enforcement in 2017. This bill is a victory for the general public, and for the families of people wrongly shot and killed by law enforcement.

AB-2942 Criminal Procedure: Recall of Sentencing

This bill makes it easier for prosecutors to retroactively recommend shorter sentences for inmates. In the past, only certain situations allowed a prosecutor to request a sentence reduction after the fact, such as the discovery of new evidence. Now, prosecutors have the power to request a sentence reduction in any situation where they deem it would be in the interests of justice. This should allow Los Angeles defense attorneys to work with prosecutors to request reduced sentences for people serving excessive time in prison.

SB-215 – Diversion: Mental Disorders

This is an adjustment to previous legislation that allowed judges to send people charged with certain crimes to community health treatment programs rather than trial. This bill amends that previous law to make defendants accused of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and rape ineligible for diversion programs.

If Your Loved One Could Benefit from These Reforms, Please Call Us

Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP believes the people of California want to see justice done, and applauds these reforms to the criminal justice system. Our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys have handled many cases where law enforcement rushed to judgment, accusing people of crimes they did not commit. We handle federal crimes and state crimes, as well as writs and appeals after a conviction. For a free initial consultation, please call (213) 688-0460.

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