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Multiple Bills Filed in CA to Shorten Criminal Sentences

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Multiple bills address the recommendations of an advisory committee formed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to examine racial equity in California's criminal-justice system. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
Multiple bills address the recommendations of an advisory committee formed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to examine racial equity in California's criminal-justice system. (Public Domain Pictures/Pixabay)
 By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA - Producer, Contact
February 19, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Today is the last day for bills to be introduced in Sacramento - and supporters of criminal-sentencing reform have filed nine proposals, all intended to make the system more just for people of all races.

The bills would follow through on recommendations made in a new report from the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code.

Natasha Minsker, a consultant to the committee, said she supports Senate Bill 483, which would shorten sentences for thousands of people sitting behind bars for so-called "zombie enhancements" - longer sentences for reasons that have been repealed by the Legislature.

"And we have to go back and reconsider these lengthy sentences that serve no purpose for public safety, and have really damaged Black and Latino communities," said Minsker.

Several bills would give judges more discretion with regard to sentencing enhancements - especially gang-related enhancements, which have been disproportionately used against Black and Latino defendants.

Minsker said she also supports lightening up on certain traffic infractions that impose a particular burden on low-income drivers.

Assembly Bill 907, for example, would make driving without a license a civil offense with a $50 fine, instead of a misdemeanor that leads to a point on a person's driving record.

"Driving on a suspended license, that's a crime that impacts low-income communities of color and has nothing to do with public safety," said Minsker.

The commission also recommends more sweeping reforms, including a proposal to allow most people who have served at least 15 years behind bars to petition for a lighter sentence.

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