California Democrats call on judges to consider racial criteria in sentencing

The bill proposes adding a section to the state Penal Code that would require courts to "rectify" the conviction of an offender who belongs to a minority group.

A bill introduced by Democrats in the California Legislature would require judges in the state to consider an offender's race when sentencing:

It is the intent of the Legislature to rectify the racial bias that has historically permeated our criminal justice system as documented by the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

The bill,  which has already been approved by the California Assembly, would add a section to the State Penal Code that would require the courts, whenever they can do so, to "rectify" the sentencing of an offender who belongs to a minority group and would ask to take into account the racial biases that allegedly exist in the criminal justice system.

This bill would state the intent of the Legislature to rectify racial bias, as specified. The bill would require courts, whenever they have discretion to determine a sentence, to consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-affected populations.

20230AB852_99 by Verónica Silveri

The author of AB 852, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, argues that under current law, there is racial bias in sentencing an offender who belongs to a minority group:

A conviction or sentence is unlawfully imposed on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin if the defendant proves, among other things, that the defendant was charged or convicted of a more serious crime than defendants of other races, ethnicities, or national origins or received a longer or more severe sentence and the evidence establishes that the prosecution more frequently sought or obtained convictions for more serious offenses against people who share the defendant’s race, ethnicity, or national origin, as specified, or if a longer or more severe sentence was more frequently imposed on defendants of a particular race, ethnicity, or national origin, as specified.

Similar law wants to restrict traffic stops

A similar bill was passed by the California Senate. Its implementation is intended to restrict law enforcement from making traffic stops for minor infractions, such as having a burned-out headlight, expired registration or an expired license.

Supporters of the law use the pretext that traffic stops for minor infractions are "unnecessary," because they claim they are conducted in a way that is "racially biased" and in a "disproportionate manner against communities of color." The author of the bill, Senator Steven Bradford stated:

The data clearly shows that these pretextual stops are disproportionately used against communities of color (...) Having these unnecessary stops not only puts the community at greater risk (...) Such measures would reduce the ability of law enforcement to use minor non-safety-related traffic violations to conduct racially biased stops.

Both bills are on hold pending approval.