Edward Henderson, California Black Media
Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) are applauding a new law Gov. Newsom signed on Oct. 8 that modifies the state court sentencing procedure for crimes.
Senate Bill (SB) 567 requires judges to only hand out sentences with lengths that match several years that reflect the median point of the possible term.
Moving forward, according to the new law, sentences will only exceed middle term after circumstances presented to a jury are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
“We are now in a period of reckoning that requires us to confront the reality and interconnectedness of racism, inequality, and injustice which have permeated our institutions and deprive people of liberty, without the fundamental standards for fairness in our processes,” said Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), who is chair of the CLBC
The new law marks a correction to a ruling that was only meant to last 2 years but ended up lasting 14.
In 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held in Cunningham v. California ruled that California’s determinate sentencing law was unconstitutional. The court found that California law impermissibly allowed judges to impose an upper/maximum term based upon facts that were never presented to a jury and deemed to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. This was a violation of the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution right to a trial by jury, according to the SCOTUS.
Later that year, a temporary law was put into place allowing judges to impose any of the three sentencing terms as long as they stated a reason for giving them. The law allowed judges to apply a maximum sentence without granting defendants the opportunity to have a jury determine if the reasoning for the sentence was true or not. The law was supposed to last until 2009 when a review of the sentencing process could determine a long-term solution.
However, the mandate ended up lasting until Gov. Newsom signed the law a little over a week ago.
Bradford was a lead proponent of SB 567 as part of this year’s criminal justice reform efforts.
“SB 567 makes our criminal justice system more credible and is a step in the right direction for criminal justice reform. I am grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the bill and appreciate the support of my legislative colleagues who voted for the bill because, only together, can we create a system that gives the public more confidence,” he said.
The bill was also sponsored by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice and supported by organizations such as Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and San Francisco Public Defender.
“SB 567 is a huge step forward in the fight for true justice in the courtroom. The impact of long sentences on individuals and families should not be taken lightly or subjected to arbitrary terms. As a lawyer and someone who has been impacted by the loss of loved ones to incarceration, I find this bill a worthy step in the right direction,” said Joanna Billingy, Policy Manager, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.
SB 567 will take effect on January 1, 2022.