Six real criminal justice reform bills were killed last year in the California Legislature which would have expanded the definition of violent crime to include human trafficking, elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, rape, and other crimes most Californians consider violent.
AB 27, AB 67, AB 197, SB 75, SB 652 and SB 770 would have corrected unclear language and serious flaws in Proposition 57, passed in 2016 by voters. Prop. 57, titled the “Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative,” was to increase rehabilitation services and decrease the prison population. Though the measure passed, it was misleading on many fronts. Voters believed the title and passed the initiative.
However, since 2016, what has transpired is the decriminalization of crimes previously considered violent. Because the language in Proposition 57 is imprecise, it has resulted in the release of felony rapists in situations when the victim did not or could not grant consent. The initiative specified early parole for persons who committed non-violent offenses. However, the initiative never specified what is considered a non-violent felony.
Additionally, human trafficking involving a minor, assault with a deadly weapon, solicitation of murder, rape under various specified circumstances, grand theft of a firearm, elder and dependent adult abuse, were considered “non-violent” crimes under Prop. 57. And since it was passed, rapists have received lenient sentences.
Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) authored AB 27 last year which would have classified all forms of rape as “violent felonies.” Her bill was killed during the committee process.
AB 67 by Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino) would have added human sex trafficking to the list of violent felonies codified in the Penal Code. AB 67 was killed during the committee process.
AB 197 by Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R-Granite Bay), would have added a number of specified felony offenses to the violent felonies list, by defining as violent felonies child abduction, providing a child under 16 years of age for purposes of a lewd act, abduction of a minor for purposes of prostitution, child abuse, sodomy with a minor, oral copulation of a minor, contact with a minor to commit specified offenses, arranging a meeting with a minor for lewd purposes, employing a minor to produce sexual matter, elder and dependent adult abuse, false imprisonment of an elder or dependent adult, and animal abuse. AB 197 was killed in the Public Safety Committee.
SB 75 by Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) would have defined vehicular manslaughter, human trafficking involving a minor, assault with a deadly weapon, solicitation of murder, rape under various specified circumstances, and grand theft of a firearm as violent felonies for purposes of imposing specified sentence enhancements. SB 75 was killed in the Senate Public Safety Committee.
SB 652 by Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) would have defined as a “violent felony” the unlawful possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a felony enumerated as a violent felony. SB 652 was killed in the Senate Public Safety Committee.
SB 770 by Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) would have added human trafficking, elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, rape under specified circumstances, discharge of a firearm at an occupied building, and specified crimes against peace officers and witnesses, as violent felonies for purposes of the above specified sentence enhancements. SB 770 was killed in the Senate Public Safety Committee.
As Prop. 57 stands, crimes such as human trafficking, child abduction, elder and dependent adult abuse, assault with a deadly weapon, and rape of an unconscious person, are not considered “violent crimes.”
In February, Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), released an important statement about yet another violent murderer being considered for early release under Prop. 57:
“Last Thursday, a California Appellate judge ruled that a man originally sentenced to 35 years to life in state prison is now eligible for early release under Proposition 57, the California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative.
The felon was convicted of stabbing his girlfriend with a butcher knife, forcibly molesting his 11-year-old niece and gang raping a 17-year-old pregnant teenager.
It pains me to describe these offenses but it’s imperative that I do – because there is something grossly wrong with current law pertaining to these offenses. Under Proposition 57, the courts have ruled that violent sexual offenders and even a felon that stabbed his girlfriend is considered a non-violent criminal.
This ruling marks the second time in the past year that a court has ruled that pedophiles and rapists will be considered for early release from prison (proponents promised voters this would never happen) under the highly misrepresented Proposition 57.
While Proposition 57 promised to keep violent offenders in prison, the list of crimes considered as non-violent are unimaginable. The list includes pimping a child, beating a spouse and raping an unconscious or disabled person.
Victims’ rights groups and legal experts all warned the initiative was too risky and would likely lead to the early release of some of society’s worst criminals. The electorate was misled and they will ultimately be the ones to pay the price if we don’t start an honest conversation about the realities of the impacts of Proposition 57.
This conversation is long overdue. It’s time for legislative leaders, criminal justice reform groups and public safety experts to come together to address this issue.”
Assemblyman Cooper was a Captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, where he worked for 30 years.