New Laws in 2021

Written by: Doug Ridley

Criminal Justice Reform Gets a Big Boost in the New Year

A year ago, not many could have guessed what 2020 would bring. As this unprecedented year comes to a close, we can look forward to some of the bright spots that the new year has to offer. Criminal justice reform was a hot-button issue for California legislators resulting in a plethora of game-changing bills being signed into law.

We will take a look at just a few of the new laws in 2021 that may have the most significant impact on you and your family. As always, if you would like to discuss any of the latest legislation, the team at Ridley Defense is here to help! Please do not hesitate to contact our attorneys or staff with any questions regarding how these laws may affect your case.

Misdemeanor Diversion

One of the biggest changes in our laws for criminal justice system provides a new way to get our clients cases dismissed. Assembly Bill 3234 provides a new procedure where most misdemeanor cases are now eligible for diversion. After being placed on diversion, if a client is on their best behavior for a year or two and complies with all orders of the court, the charge gets dismissed. This new law allows a client to be able to honestly say that they were never even arrested for the offense. This will have a huge impact on the way we negotiate out our misdemeanor cases, and provides a big change in how we can get our clients back on track.

Bail Reform Referendum

A referendum put bail reform on the ballot this year, and a majority of voters decided to repeal the law that would end cash bail and replace it with a risk-assessment pre-trial release system. 

After vigorous campaigning from both sides, Senate Bill 10 was repealed by voters.

As I discussed with the students in my Criminal Trial Preparation and Settlement class at Pepperdine Law School, the bill was flawed from its inception, and emergency legislation would have been needed to correct this faulty attempt at bail reform.

Probation Cap

Assembly Bill 1950 restricts the period of probation for misdemeanor offenses to one year unless it is an offense that includes a specific probation length within its provisions. The bill also limits adult probation to a maximum of two years for felony offenses unless specified within the provisions of the offense.

This bill amends Penal Code section 1203a and 1203.1 and could have a significant impact on many cases. It will unquestionably apply to all crimes committed on or after January 1, 2021, and will likely apply to all cases that are not final as of that date or that are pending sentencing. This is one of the most exciting pieces of legislation signed into law this year. Call our office to discuss further how it might affect your case or your probation. 

Automatic Relief for Some Offenses

Assembly Bill 1076 requires the Department of Justice to review criminal justice databases to identify people who are eligible for relief and automatically grant that relief. This law applies to arrests and convictions occurring on or after January 1, 2021, and grants relief for arrest records (Penal Code 851.93) and criminal records (Penal Code 1203.425).  

Elderly Parole Changes

AB 3234 has lowered the age that inmates may apply for parole as part of the Elderly Parole Program. Currently, inmates may apply for parole if they are at least 60 years old and have served a minimum of 25 years. Under the new bill, elderly inmates may now apply for parole if they are at least 50 years old and have served a minimum of 20 years.

Juvenile Justice

Several new laws were directed at reforming the juvenile justice system. Assembly Bill 2425 prohibits local law enforcement from releasing the record of a juvenile offender who is in diversion, has successfully completed a diversion program, has been counseled and released, or who falls outside the jurisdiction. 

Senate Bill 1290 vacates certain county-assessed or court-ordered costs that were imposed before January 1, 2018, in juvenile cases providing much-needed financial relief to families. 

Assembly Bill 901 encourages the use of community-based resources for truancy and other issues in lieu of referral to juvenile court. 

Finally, Senate Bill 823 phases out the use of juvenile prisons by eliminating the Division of Juvenile Justice and establishing the Department of Youth and Community Restoration, which gives local county jurisdiction over justice-involved youth.

Currently, the Welfare and Institutions Code 625.6 requires that all juvenile offenders 15 years and younger be given the opportunity to consult with a lawyer prior to waiving their Miranda rights and prior to custodial investigation taking place. Now under SB 203, this law has been extended to all minors 17 years old and younger. 

Law Enforcement Review

Several new laws address law enforcement’s use of force and oversight of local agencies. One of the most sweeping pieces of legislation is Assembly Bill 1196, which prohibits a law enforcement agency from authorizing the use of a carotid restraint or chokehold. 

Other legislation is aimed at oversight, including Assembly Bill 1185, which authorizes a county to establish a sheriff oversight board to assist the board of supervisors. And commencing July 1, 2023, Assembly Bill 1506 requires the Attorney General to operate a Police Practices Division to, at the request of a local law enforcement agency, review their use-of-force policy and make recommendations. The bill also shifts investigations of officer-involved shootings from the county to the state.

Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System

In an effort to eliminate racial bias in the California criminal justice system, Assembly Bill 2542 established the California Racial Justice Act of 2020. The act prohibits the state from seeking a criminal conviction or sentence based on race, ethnicity, or national origin. It allows a person to seek to have their conviction or sentence vacated if it was based on their race, ethnicity, or national origin, including convictions secured through the use of racially biased testimony.

In the hopes of eliminating unfair exclusion of potential jurors based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religious affiliation, or their perceived membership in any of those groups, Assembly Bill 3070 prohibits the use of a peremptory challenge to remove a prospective juror on the basis of race, ethnicity, etc. The bill takes effect on January 1, 2022, but may be earlier by some counties.

Prison Sentencing Based on Underlying Charge

The legislature amended the Penal Code to add section 1170(h)(9), which would require that the underlying charge, not an enhancement, determines where a prison sentence is served. Thus, if an underlying offense states that a person can serve imprisonment in county jail, but an enhancement requires that they serve in state prison, then the underlying offense controls where their sentence is served.

Tiered Sex Offender Registration

Signed into law in 2017 by Governor Jerry Brown, Senate Bill 384 goes into effect on January 1, 2021. It establishes a three-tiered sex offender registration based on specified criteria, including the actual offense. Registration would be for periods of 10 years, 20 years, or life, depending on the tier.

Restoring Voting Rights

On November 3, 2020, the vast majority of California voters approved Proposition 17, which restored the right to vote to tens of thousands of parolees. Approval of this proposition resulted in a constitutional amendment granting Californians who have been convicted of a felony but released on parole the right to vote.

Certain Court Fees Eliminated

AB 1869 provides that courts may no longer collect 23 of the most severe fees imposed on criminal defendants and that they cancel all former judgments that required those fees. The fees that may no longer be collected include the following and more:

  • County and city booking fees 
  • Interstate compact supervision fees
  • Parole supervision fees
  • Work furlough fees
  • Probation investigation/progress report fee

In Conclusion

These are just a few of the bills that have been signed into law over the past year. Undoubtedly, 2021 will look a lot different from the past year. We know that all of these changes can seem overwhelming, and you may be daunted by how they could affect you or your loved ones.

At Ridley Defense, we are here to help you understand these new laws and how they could impact your case or your future. Whether you have a child with an upcoming hearing in juvenile court or are wondering if you are eligible for a diversion program, we can help. 

Contact Ridley Defense at (805) 208-1866 or send us a message. We hope you have a safe end to your year and look forward to a prosperous new year!

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