In June, the Globe spoke with Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward about the alarming effects of legislative efforts to remove and reduce violent criminal offenses in the state, undermining law enforcement. We discussed the repercussions of AB 333, the far-reaching fingers of the bill’s retroactive component, as well as the fallout of the strident effort to “reform” and undermine law enforcement in California.
Ward said AB 333 removed 7 to 8 crimes from prosecution, including the crime of “looting,” which generally involves retail theft during a time of emergency, and organized retail theft, which he noted was a huge problem throughout the state during the pandemic lockdowns. Retail theft remains a problem to this day. “Constituents didn’t know this bill had even passed,” DA Ward said. Now he says with AB 333 retroactive, “DAs are concerned felony gang cases will come back and the perpetrators will get lighter sentences.” And he’s concerned about cases already on appeal.
Ward also said he finds the removal of “identity theft” politically convenient, especially on the heels of the $31 Billion EDD fraud, much of it masterminded by gang leadership in prisons, according to DA Ward.
The Globe caught up with DA Tim Ward again and this time discussed another bill undermining public safety, AB 1540, a resentencing bill by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) passed and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2021. Only the resentencing isn’t being done by the Judge or on recommendation by the District Attorney in the case – the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is doing the resentencing. The CDCR is the penal law enforcement agency of the government of California responsible for the operation of the California state prison and parole systems.
According to bill analysis, “AB 1540 requires the court to provide counsel for the defendant when there is recommendation from the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH), Sheriff, or the prosecuting agency, to recall an inmate’s sentence and resentence that inmate to a lesser sentence.”
DA Ward said there are so many detrimental issues with AB 1540, the first of which is the crime victim and victim’s family get dragged back into the case once again for the resentencing of the inmate/convict, despite the harshness of the original sentence. “It puts victims in a very precarious position.”
“Now the CDCR has a seat at the table to determine sentences, which may be recalled and reduced,” DA Ward said. “They’ve been given a higher footing” to resentence the criminal. This is causing old cases to come back to DAs throughout the state. “It’s opened up Pandora’s box.”
DA Ward says this bill is likely unconstitutional because of the separation of powers clause in the California Constitution, which reads in full: “The powers of state government are legislative, executive, and judicial. Persons charged with the exercise of one power may not exercise either of the others except as permitted by this Constitution.”
“The District Attorney charges the perpetrator, the Jury decides what they are guilty of, and the Judge issues the sentence,” DA Ward said. “The CDCR? The Legislature has removed the prosecutors’ discretion, and judicial discretion, and put it in the hands of the CDCR.”
“How many times do we have to sentence a criminal? The majority of our workload is not first offenses.”
Ward explained that the CDCR is only looking at resentencing as a reward for good behavior.
“The credit system rewards inmates behavior, yet, that’s what a parole hearing is for,” DA Ward said. “Rewarding inmates behavior is taking precedence over the victims.”
According to the California District Attorneys Association:
“AB 1540 would shift the burden of proof from a standard which allows the court to grant a petition when the evidence shows that the inmate’s continued incarceration is no longer in the interest of justice, to an impossible-to-rebut standard that would require the court to grant every petition “unless there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is likely to commit a future violent crime.” This would not only impose the highest standard of proof in the inverse but would require the impossible – the ability to not only accurately predict the future, but to do so beyond a reasonable doubt. There will never be proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the future conduct of any human being because no human is possessed of such ability. Moreover, the proposed standard only contemplates the commission of a future “violent” crime. This, by definition, precludes consideration of the likelihood that the inmate will commit future non-violent crimes such as domestic violence, rape by intoxication or child molestation which are highly likely to be repeated in the absence of successful rehabilitation.
“Finally, AB 1540 would apply not only to convictions at trial but also to convictions resulting from plea bargain and would preclude the prosecution and court from withdrawing their end of the original plea agreement when resentencing was granted. Freeing the inmate of the obligations of a plea agreement while continuing to bind the court and prosecution will have negative consequences. Neither prosecutors nor the court will be willing to enter into plea bargains that entail reduced sentences or dismissal of charges when the defendant will not be bound by his or her end of the agreement.”
DA Ward described a tragic case he had back in 2005-2006 where the defendant shot her daughter-in-law during a family dinner after accusing her of having an affair with her husband. Defendant was found guilty of premeditated attempted murder, and sentenced to life in prison plus a consecutive term of 25 years for the firearm finding.
The victim lived but was greatly traumatized.
“CDCR wasn’t a part of the case,” Ward said. “And they weren’t there when we had to call the victim and tell her that her mother-in-law is now eligible for parole and resentencing.”
“This is so far removed from the impact on the victim.”
“Here are some other sentencing changes thanks to the legislature,” DA Ward said. “Tell me which one is victim based?”
- AB 518 by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) (eff 1/1/22): Court no longer required to impose greater sentence under PC 654.
- SB 567 by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-LosAngeles) (eff 1/1/22): Sentencing terms may not exceed the middle term, with few exceptions. PC 1170.
- SB 81 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) (eff 6/30/22): Enhancements must now be dismissed in furtherance of justice, with few exceptions. PC 1385.
- AB 1540 by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) (eff 6/30/22): Sentences may be recalled and reduced. PC 1172.1.
This article is part of a special series called “Common Sense Public Safety” where California District Attorneys present and analyze various issues in the state.
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