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Articles Posted in Wrongful Arrests and Convictions

Barhoma Law, P.C., a California Criminal Appeals law firm, has been following Senate Bill 775 closely. Senate Bill 775 passed the senate and the assembly this month, on September 10, 2021. It has been passed off to Governor Newsom for final signature. If signed, this bill will help reduce the sentence of those convicted of attempted murder and manslaughter, if they meet the SB 775 criteria.

Most notably, SB 775 is retroactive, meaning, you can apply this new law to your case, despite your case being final. Previously, SB 1437 changed the felony murder rule. Under SB 1437, those convicted under the natural and probable consequences doctrine were able to petition the court to re-examine their case. More specifically, per SB 1437, if an accused did not: (1) act with reckless indifference to human life, or (2) was not a major participant to homicide, they were able to petition for re-sentencing. Attorney Matthew Barhoma, founder of Barhoma Law, P.C. was successful multiple times under this law, giving back his clients a second chance at life.

However, SB 1437 only applied to those convicted of homicide. As such, it did not apply to those convicted of lesser offenses, such as attempted murder or manslaughter. Even worse, the SB 1437 criteria left out those who were facing homicide charges, but decided to comply with the District Attorney’s office during their prosecution by accepting a plea deal for a lesser offense.

For decades, criminal law was seen as a “one-way ratchet” in that, whenever changes were made to the criminal law, they almost always made the laws stricter. Typically, this is a function of high crime rates, and the political pressure lawmakers face from their constituents. Generally, lawmakers do not want to be seen as being “soft” on crime, so they continually propose increasingly strict laws to prove they mean business. However, California constitutional law provides citizens the ability to propose ballot initiatives. If someone can get enough signatures to support a ballot initiative, the entire state will vote on the initiative and, if it passes, it will become law. This is what happened with California’s Proposition 57.

Proposition 57, or Prop 57, as it is more commonly known, is a ballot initiative passed in 2016. Prop 57 implements broad criminal justice reform as it pertains to parole consideration and juvenile offenders. Proponents of Prop 57 emphasized that the continued incarceration of many inmates was not only overly harsh, but wasted tens of millions of dollars a year in valuable tax revenue.

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Under the terms of Prop 57, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation must allow for defendants convicted of certain non-violent crimes to be considered for parole upon completing their sentence for the primary offense. Previously, various sentencing enhancements could keep someone in jail longer than their original sentence; for example, if they had committed multiple crimes against multiple victims. Prop 57 eliminates the requirement that defendants serve the enhanced portion of the sentence, allowing for earlier parole consideration.

Police and prosecutors are eager to use anything they can to identify a suspect and obtain a conviction, especially in the most serious cases, such as California homicide crimes. However, often this comes at the expense of—rather than the pursuit of—justice.

For example, take a recent New York Times article discussing the use of facial recognition software. Racial recognition software relies on computers to recognize human faces. In the law enforcement context, this usually involves a police officer inputting a suspect’s photo into the program, which then searches through a database of thousands of photos, looking for a match. Police will occasionally use facial recognition software if they have surveillance video or a still-frame photo, but do not know who it is in the photo.

According to the New York Times article, the use of facial recognition software was used to arrest a man for a crime he did not commit. Evidently, police received a report of a man stealing candy. When police arrived on the scene, they found the suspect at a rental car agency, trying to get his rental extended. The suspect gave them an ID card, apologized, and offered to pay for the candy.

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