Con­tin­u­ing to chip away at crime penal­ties

Manteca Bulletin - - Local / Nation -

SACRA­MENTO (AP) — The re­cently com­pleted Cal­i­for­nia leg­isla­tive ses­sion con­tin­ued a years­long ef­fort to lower crim­i­nal sen­tences, ease re­stric­tions on sus­pects, and keep ju­ve­niles out of adult pris­ons de­spite ob­jec­tions that the moves could harm pub­lic safety.

From a na­tion-lead­ing re­form mea­sure that elim­i­nates cash bail to re­stric­tions on try­ing ju­ve­niles, a ma­jor goal of Demo­cratic law­mak­ers this year was to limit mass in­car­cer­a­tion that sup­port­ers say of­ten dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fects women, youth and mi­nori­ties.

“All th­ese bills are com­ing to you be­cause it’s time for us to rec­tify a sys­tem that’s been proven to not work, to not re­ha­bil­i­tate adults, and that’s been com­pletely dis­crim­i­na­tory” to mi­nori­ties, said Sen. Ri­cardo Lara, a Los An­ge­les-area Demo­crat.

Lara suc­cess­fully ar­gued for a bill pro­hibit­ing 14- and 15-year-olds from be­ing sent to adult pris­ons even for crimes like mur­der, ar­son and rob­bery.

The Cal­i­for­nia District At­tor­neys As­so­ci­a­tion is urg­ing Brown to veto the bill. It could set dan­ger­ous killers free at 25 with lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to keep even the most threat­en­ing locked up, the group ar­gues.

Pros­e­cut­ing peo­ple younger than 16 in adult court should be rare, Sacra­mento County District At­tor­ney Anne Marie Schu­bert said, but judges should have that dis­cre­tion in the most se­ri­ous cases.

Schu­bert and other DAs came to Sacra­mento last week to urge Brown to re­ject the bill and to highlight the case of Daniel Marsh, who was 15 in 2013 when he mur­dered and mu­ti­lated an el­derly cou­ple in Davis.

“This was not a crime of pas­sion or ju­ve­nile im­pulse. It was a wellplanned and ex­e­cuted ran­dom act of vi­o­lence,” said Mary Northup, the daugh­ter of one of Marsh’s vic­tims. “This is the ex­cep­tion that proves (the bill) SB1391 would un­leash a vi­o­lent crim­i­nal on our so­ci­ety.”

Brown, a for­mer state at­tor­ney gen­eral, hasn’t in­di­cated how he will act.

Law­mak­ers also vastly ex­panded the num­ber of crim­i­nal sus­pects who can be di­verted to men­tal health treat­ment pro­grams and have their charges dis­missed, but weeks later bowed to crit­ics with a re­vised bill ex­clud­ing those charged with mur­der, rape and other sex crimes.

Other bills sent to Brown in­clude re­strict­ing the state’s felony mur­der rule that holds ac­com­plices to the same stan­dard as the per­son who car­ried out the killing. Crit­ics say the rule has been dis­pro­por­tion­ately used against poor and mi­nor­ity of­fend­ers as well as youths and women who are more likely to be ac­com­plices.

“It goes too far. It at this point is noth­ing short of shock­ing and an af­front to pub­lic safety,” said Michele Hanisee, pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Los An­ge­les Deputy District At­tor­neys. The felony mur­der bill “will re­sult in the re­lease of mur­der­ers, ab­so­lutely no ques­tion about it,” she said, as judges and ju­ries try to sort out who pulled the trig­ger.

Brown al­ready signed a bill that in Oc­to­ber 2019 will end cash bail for sus­pects await­ing trial. Sus­pects will in­stead be held or freed based on the like­li­hood they’ll re­turn to court and the de­gree of dan­ger they pose to the pub­lic.

Cal­i­for­nia Bail Agents As­so­ci­a­tion lob­by­ist David Quin­tana said he’s con­fi­dent that vot­ers will sup­port over­turn­ing the mea­sure on the 2020 bal­lot.

“All th­ese crim­i­nal jus­tice bills that have passed in the last cou­ple of years are re­ally hav­ing a cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect on how the pub­lic per­ceives their safety,” Quin­tana said.

Yet Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers have gen­er­ally been sup­port­ive of re­form ef­forts, eas­ing crim­i­nal penal­ties for drug and prop­erty crimes in 2014 and al­low­ing ear­lier pa­role for in­mates in a 2016 bal­lot mea­sure. They’ll weigh in again in 2020 on an ini­tia­tive that seeks to roll back por­tions of those two ear­lier mea­sures.

Repub­li­can Assem­bly­women Melissa Me­len­dez of Lake Elsinore said law­mak­ers are fa­vor­ing crim­i­nals over vic­tims as she ar­gued against a bill that would have re­stricted en­hanced sen­tences for most convicts.

“We have passed quite enough softon-crime, pro-crim­i­nal bills this year alone,” she said. “Stop race-bait­ing and talk about the real is­sue, and maybe for once here some­one can talk about the vic­tims.”

Re­search shows that crim­i­nal jus­tice laws in­deed dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions, said Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Irvine, crim­i­nol­o­gist Ker­amet Reiter, while sev­eral re­searchers also have found lit­tle link be­tween any in­crease in crime rates and the eas­ing of laws.

State jus­tice of­fi­cials re­ported in July that vi­o­lent crime in Cal­i­for­nia in­creased 1.5 per­cent last year com­pared with 2016 while prop­erty crime dropped 2 per­cent over the same year.

In a rare loss, leg­is­la­tors fac­ing a bar­rage of law en­force­ment op­po­si­tion shelved for the year a scaled­back bill that would have tough­ened the stan­dard for when po­lice can use deadly force.

Demo­cratic Assem­bly­woman Shirley We­ber of San Diego in­tro­duced the leg­is­la­tion shortly af­ter Sacra­mento po­lice shot and killed an un­armed black man, 22-year-old Stephon Clark, while search­ing for some­one break­ing into ve­hi­cles. The killing un­leashed an­gry protests in the cap­i­tal city.

A coali­tion in­clud­ing the Al­liance for Boys and Men of Color, ACLU of Cal­i­for­nia, Anti Po­lice-Ter­ror Pro­ject, Com­mu­ni­ties United for Restora­tive Youth Jus­tice and Youth Jus­tice Coali­tion L.A. crit­i­cized law­mak­ers for not do­ing more.

“Ev­ery day that goes by with­out chang­ing the stan­dard for when po­lice can use deadly force, is a day that another per­son will be un­justly killed in Cal­i­for­nia,” they said.

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