Senate Committee Rejects Senator Patricia Bates' Effort to Fix Flaws in Recent Criminal Justice Reforms

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Senate Public Safety Committee today rejected Senate Bill 710 (“Keeping California Safe Act”) authored by Senator Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) that would have alleviated the unintended and dangerous consequences of recent criminal justice reforms enacted in California.

“The Legislature passed on a golden opportunity to fix the flaws in well-meaning criminal justice reforms enacted in recent years,” said Senator Bates. “For example, my bill would have redefined brutal crimes such as rape of an unconscious person and felony assault with a deadly weapon as ‘violent,’ preventing the early release of dangerous criminals. Law-abiding Californians deserve better.”

SB 710 would have addressed four major flaws of prior criminal justice reforms approved by the Legislature and California’s voters:

  • Misclassification of Violent Felonies
  • DNA Testing
  • Parole Hearings and Violations
  • Serial Theft

More information about SB 710 can be found below.

Misclassification of Violent Felonies

SB 710 reclassifies the violent crimes wrongfully classified as “non-violent,” and, therefore, misdemeanors under Prop. 47. Crimes that will be reclassified as “violent felonies” include rape of an unconscious person, felony domestic violence, and other similar violent crimes. Individuals convicted of such violent crimes will no longer be eligible for early release under Prop. 57 since their crimes will now be classified as felonies.

When Prop. 57 (2016) was marketed to the public, the proponents promised that individuals convicted of violent crimes, such as rape of an unconscious person and pimping a child, would not be released from prison. However, since the initiative’s implementation, several court cases have proven that these violent criminals can be released early into neighborhoods.

For example, a California appellate judge ruled that a felon convicted of stabbing his girlfriend with a butcher knife, forcibly molesting his 11-year-old niece, and gang raping a 17-year-old pregnant teenager is now eligible for early release under Prop. 57. Violent criminals like that felon were not the people the voters believed would be released early when they passed Prop. 57.

DNA Testing

SB 710 restores DNA collection for certain crimes that required DNA collection before their reclassification as misdemeanors under Prop. 47. SB 710 ensures that the DNA databank will continue to provide the answers needed to solve violent crimes and to exonerate the innocent.

Prop. 47 (2014) reclassified several felony offenses as misdemeanors. Once these offenses were classified as misdemeanors, law enforcement was no longer able to collect DNA samples from these offenders. Prop. 69 only allows DNA samples to be collected from individuals convicted of a felony.

One study done by the California Department of Justice found that 40% of the serious, violent crimes in the study were solved because of DNA samples taken upon arrest for drug and property crimes. Because these drug and property crimes are now misdemeanors, which no longer qualify for collection of DNA samples upon arrest under Prop. 47, over 40% of the murders, rapes, and robberies solved in this study would have remained unsolved if Prop. 47 was in effect at the time of the qualifying arrests.

Since the passage of Prop. 47, the DNA database has already experienced a dip in effectiveness, seeing 2,000 less hits. Without a robust DNA databank, law enforcement will not have the tools necessary to solve serious crimes efficiently and effectively.

Parole Hearings and Violations

SB 710 requires the Board of Parole to consider an inmate’s entire criminal history, including all current and past convictions, when deciding if the inmate will be released early on parole. Additionally, SB 710 gives the victims of the inmate the opportunity to submit statements to be considered in the inmate’s parole hearing. SB 710 also requires a mandatory hearing for an inmate who violates the terms of her parole three times to determine whether her parole should be revoked.

Due to changes made by Assembly Bill 109 (2011), parole decisions are based solely on an inmate’s commitment offense, not past offenses that may have been serious and violent. Additionally, current law does not provide substantive consequences for repeated violations of an inmate’s parole.

One example that highlights the unintended consequences of current law is the murder of Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer in 2017. Officer Boyer’s murderer, Michael Christopher Mejia, had violated his parole and been “flash incarcerated” several times before he brutally murdered the officer.

Serial Theft

SB 710 deters repeat petty theft offenders by adding a felony for “serial theft.” This felony would be triggered when an individual who has two prior theft convictions is convicted of a third theft conviction of property taken that exceeds $250.

Prop. 47 changed the threshold, from $450 to $950, for theft to be considered a felony. This means that as long as an individual steals less than $950 worth of merchandise, they will only be charged with a misdemeanor, no matter how many times they commit this offense. As a result, many communities have seen more repeat petty theft offenders or “serial theft,” and an inability of law enforcement to prosecute these crimes effectively.