California Lawmakers Pass AB 256, an Effort to Reduce the Racial Disparity of the Criminal Justice System
It’s beyond argument that the criminal justice system has a very unfortunate history of being applied in a racially discriminatory manner. In fact, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, Black and hispanic men are imprisoned at ten times the rate of white men. Finally, after decades of turning a blind eye to this injustice, California lawmakers have started to make meaningful strides towards a more racially just justice system with the passage of Assembly Bill 256 (“AB 256”).
What Is AB 256?
Senate Bill 256 is a bill introduced by State Assemblymember Ash Kalra of the 27th Assembly District. The bill builds upon a prior law, the California Racial Justice Act, which precludes the government from making any prosecutorial or sentencing decisions based on the race, ethnicity or national origin of the accused. While the Racial Justice Act, which was also presented by Assemblymember Kalra, took significant steps to remedy an unfair criminal justice system, it only applied to convictions on or after January 1, 2021. Thus, those who were serving sentences based on decades-old convictions were beyond the scope of the Act, meaning they were left without a remedy.
Assembly Bill 256 changes this by extending the protections of the Racial Justice Act to those who were convicted of a crime before January 1, 2021. Thus, under the newly passed AB 256, anyone, regardless of when they were convicted, can pursue relief under the California Racial Justice Act. Not only that, but the bill would also require any judge whose conduct was challenged in an inmate’s petition to recuse themselves. Practically speaking, this means that many inmates will be able to present their petition to a judge other than the one who convicted or sentenced them.
What Do You Need To Prove in an AB 256 Petition?
To obtain relief under AB 256, an inmate must show that their prosecution, conviction or sentence was impermissibly motivated by the inmate’s race, national origin or ethnicity. The legislative summary of AB 256 provides a few examples of what grounds are appropriate for relief, such as:
- A defendant was charged or convicted of a more serious crime than defendants of other races, ethnicities, or national origins;
- A defendant received a longer or more severe sentence, and the evidence suggests that prosecutors sought harsher sentences against those of the defendant’s race; or
- Longer or more severe sentences were more frequently imposed on defendants of a particular race, ethnicity or national origin.
Under previous law, judges were only permitted to consider statistical evidence when reviewing an inmate’s claim. However, AB 256 permits a judge to consider non-statistical evidence and requires them to view the “totality of the circumstances” surrounding the case. For example, the bill requires courts “consider whether systemic and institutional racial bias, racial profiling, and historical patterns of racially biased policing and prosecution may have contributed to, or caused differences observed in, the data or impacted the availability of data overall.” In other words, the bill requires judges to consider the fact that longstanding racial bias contributes to the body of existing data.
What Relief Is Available Through AB 256?
The relief available through AB 256 depends on the nature of the violation. For example, if the judge determines a conviction was sought or obtained on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin, it must vacate the conviction. However, if a judge determines that an inmate was charged with a more serious crime based on his race, national origin or ethnicity, the judge may modify the judgment to a lesser offense.
A defendant may file a motion in the trial court or, if judgment has been imposed, may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus or a motion under Section 1473.7 in a court of competent jurisdiction, alleging a violation of subdivision (a). If the motion is based in whole or in part on conduct or statements by the judge, the judge shall disqualify themselves from any further proceedings under this section.
Were You Convicted of a Crime and Believe You Were Not Treated Fairly?
Since its inception, the criminal justice system has been disproportionately applied to incarcerated People of Color. However, recent changes to the law, including AB 256, are starting to open up new avenues of relief for inmates convicted of crimes based on their race, ethnicity or national origin. At the Los Angeles criminal appeals law firm of Barhoma Law, P.C., we are at the forefront of these new legal changes and are uniquely situated to help inmates obtain the relief they seek. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with one of the attorneys at Barhoma Law, P.C. today, call 213-800-7664. You can also reach us through our online contact form.