|(March 18, 2021) -- A bill authored by state Senator Nancy Skinner (D, Berkeley) has been amended and advanced through the state Senate Public Safety Committee in ways that would restrict grounds on which judges statewide could apply sentencing enhancements to those found guilty of certain crimes.
As SB 81 would apply statewide at the decision-making judicial sentencing level, in that respect it goes beyond controversial policies of L,.A, County DA George Gascón' who has refused to pursue certain sentencing enhancements. Some judges have declined to follow Gascón's stance and, without mentioning it, Senator Skinner's SB 81 as a practical matter targets that judicial decisionmaking.
SB 81 recites: "Existing law generally authorizes a court to dismiss an action or to strike or dismiss an enhancement in the furtherance of justice. This bill would, with exceptions, require a court to dismiss an enhancement in specified circumstances unless overcome by clear and convincing evidence that dismissal of the enhancement would endanger public safety."
....(c) (1) Except as specified in paragraphs (2) and (4), the court shall dismiss an enhancement upon finding any of the following circumstances to be true:
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Senator Skinner said SB 81 doesn't affect the base crime for which the defendant was convicted but addresses enhancements that, if applied, can add years to a convicted person's sentence. A retired judge testifying in support of the bill said data show enhancements have been applied inequitably against those in minority groups. Senator Skinner said AB 81 will add "clarity" and "guidance" for judges on when the can apply -- or can't apply -- sentencing enhancements.
On March 16, SB 81 cleared the state Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-0-1 vote (Yes: Bradford, Kamlager, Skinner, Wiener [all Democrats]; Noes: none; No Vote Recorded: Ochoa Bogh (Committee's sole Republican present but not voting.) SB 81 now goes to the state Senate Appropriations Committee (technically a fiscal/non-policy committee but effectively a Dem leadership gatekeeper) before being allowed to progress to the state Senate floor. If it passes the state Senate, SB 81 heads to the Assembly.
A Senate Public Safety Committee analysis indicates SB 81 is supported by American Civil Liberties Union; Bend The Arc: Jewish Action; California Catholic Conference; California Public Defenders Association; California Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice; Drug Policy Alliance; Ella Baker Center for Human Rights; Fresno Barrios Unidos; Friends Committee on Legislation of California; Initiate Justice; Legal Services for Prisoners with Children; Prosecutors Alliance of California; Re:Store Justice; Rubicon Programs; San Francisco Public Defender’s Office; Smart Justice California; Time for Change Foundation
It is opposed by the California State Sheriffs’ Association; Peace Officer Research Association of California
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