This week, two of State Senator Nancy Skinners criminal justice reform bills moved forward and out of the Public Safety committee. They will now go to hearings in April.
Senate Bill 81, dismissal of enhancements, moved forward in a 4-0 vote on March 16. This bill would reform the state’s use of sentencing enhancements, which add years to prison sentences but, based on widespread research, fail to improve public safety. SB 81 would create a set of guidelines for courts so that sentence enhancements would no longer be applied to nonviolent offenses and certain other cases unless a judge determines that the enhancements are necessary to protect public safety
Senate Bill 82, Petty Theft, moved forward in a 4-1 vote on March 16. The bill would update a 150-year-old statute that has allowed prosecutors to elevate a petty theft charge into felony robbery. SB 82 would establish a clear distinction between theft and robbery for cases when no deadly weapon was used and no one was seriously injured.
In February, when Skinner introduced the bills, she released the following statement.
“Serving on the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code gave me the opportunity to engage with experts and advocates to identify commonsense proposals for criminal justice reform.” Sen. Skinner said. “SB 81 sends a clear message to our courts: Sentence enhancements should be used judiciously, and only when the enhancement is necessary to protect the public. And SB 82 will help ensure that in the case of theft, the punishment meets the crime.”
Her press release also stated the vast majority of people in California prisons — 80% — are serving a sentence term that includes extra time added on by a sentencing enhancement. In some cases, the amount of prison time added due to sentencing enhancements is five to 10 years or more — longer than the term for the underlying conviction. The committee’s report also noted that “enhancements are applied disproportionately against people of color and people suffering from mental illness.” Research reviewed by the Penal Code Revision Committee showed no evidence that the proliferation of sentencing enhancements in California has made the state safer.
SB 81 would:
- The underlying conviction involves a nonviolent offense or did not include a loaded firearm
- Enforcing the sentencing enhancement would result in a disparate racial impact
- The enhancement is based on a prior conviction that is more than five years old
- The underlying conviction is connected to mental health issues or to prior victimization or childhood trauma
- The defendant was a juvenile when they committed the underlying offense or prior offenses
- Multiple enhancements are alleged in a single case or the total sentence is more than 20 years
SB 82 would:
- Create a new category of “petty theft in the first degree” for thefts under $950 that may involve force or fear but do not result in serious injury or involve the use of a deadly weapon. This new category would be punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine
- Categorize petty theft that does not involve force or fear as “petty theft in the second degree,” which remains punishable by jail time of up to six months and/or $1,000 fine
- Prohibit either category of petty theft from being charged as robbery or burglary
- Apply this change retroactively, allowing those convicted of robbery to apply for resentencing if they meet the criteria.
New York, Oregon, Illinois, and Texas are among the states that have enacted reforms similar to SB 82.