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Criminal Justice in CA … Oh How the Times they are a Changin’ (Part I)

I just received a “Nonviolent Parole Review Decision” granting parole to a defendant I prosecuted. Defendant received 18 years prison. Prop 57 was passed in 2016 to allow parole consideration for “Nonviolent” felons.  This defendant was convicted of PC §245(c) Assault with a Deadly Weapon on a Peace Officer and a violation of Penal Code §69 Resisting Arrest by use of Violence… so nonviolent?!  Really?!  With the passage of Prop 57, this defendant was granted parole after serving only 5 ½ years of his 18 year sentence.  Bob Dylan had it right folks, “Times… they are a changin’!”

Here are some other laws signed by Governor Brown that will affect the Criminal Justice system:

SB 1421:  Removed confidentiality requirements for police personnel files in cases involving police shootings, sexual assault and other instances of misconduct, including lying:

Existing law pursuant to Penal Code §832.7 requires any peace officer and custodial officer personnel records to be confidential and prohibits the disclosure of the records in any criminal or civil proceeding, except by discovery.  Currently, a discovery motion (commonly referred to as a Pitchess motion) is filed, the officer is represented by an attorney in court from the city, county or state who employ them, and the Judge after an in-camera review, decides if none, some, or all of the personnel file is relevant to the pending case and if it should be released.  The motion is filed by an attorney in relation to a pending case, not a member of the public who just wants information.

The bill was sold on the idea that concealing crucial public safety matters undercuts the public’s faith in the legitimacy of law enforcement, and somehow keeping an officer’s personnel file confidential “makes it harder for hardworking peace officers to do their jobs.” (SB 1421)  The new law signed by Governor Brown amends this code section to give the public access to the personnel records of law enforcement pursuant to a Public Information request.  The public now can request any officer’s personnel file regarding any incident involving an officer’s discharge of firearm at a person and an incident in which the use of force by an officer against a person resulted in death or great bodily injury.  Also, any incident where a  law enforcement agency sustained a finding of dishonesty, including perjury, false statements, filing false reports, destruction, falsifying or concealing evidence are also now open for public consumption.  The records to be released to the public include reports, photos, videos, interviews, audio, autopsy reports, letters of intent to impose discipline, documentation of corrective action, and all materials compiled and presented to the district attorney for review.  The agency may withhold this information, under few circumstances, including if it is the subject of an active criminal or administrative investigation.

What does this mean to you?  The public (which includes the media) now can access your personnel records for no reason other than curiosity if you were involved in any incidents noted above.

SB 1391:  Juveniles under age 16 cannot be prosecuted as adults, no matter the crime:

Prior to Prop 57, which recently passed, District Attorneys had the authority to directly file a case against a juvenile 16 or older in adult court for felony crimes, and file as adults 14- year-old and older perpetrators who committed crimes that carried life sentences.  This was primarily used in serious gang or sexual assault cases.  For other crimes, DA’s could file a motion in juvenile court that perpetrators aged 14 and older were not fit for juvenile court, and if a judge agreed, they too could be tried as adults.  Prop 57 passed and eliminated the DA’s ability to direct file on all juveniles.  The law now requires a fitness hearing before a judge.  SB 1391, just signed by Governor Brown, completely eliminates the prosecution of juveniles under 16 as adults for any crime.

What does this mean to you?  Do not be surprised if the serious gang crimes are now committed by the younger members of the gangs, those under 16.

Assembly Bill 2710:  Deems the electronic signature on an emailed search or arrest warrant a sufficient sworn declaration so long as signed under penalty of perjury, eliminating the need for the Judge to telephonically swear the officer.

Currently, when an officer makes an application for search warrant or arrest warrant by fax, email or computer server, the Judge must take the officer’s oath over the phone.  This law eliminates the need for the phone call.  The application for the search/arrest warrant with the electronic signature of the officer signed under penalty of perjury is a sufficient oath.  Furthermore, the warrant, signed electronically by the Judge and received electronically by the Declarant Officer, is deemed the original search warrant.

What does this mean to you?  Hopefully this simplifies the warrant process eliminating the need for an oral oath and ends the need to drive to the Judge’s home to pick up the original warrant with the Judge’s signature.      

PART II OF CHANGES IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM TO COME NEXT MONTH!

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