NCIP’s legislative efforts forged ahead this spring. NCIP’s priorities for this legislative session included expanding re-entry services for exonerees, regulating the use of jailhouse informants, and improving evidence retention in criminal cases. Below is a short synopsis of the status of NCIP-sponsored bills before the legislature this session.
Senate Bill (SB) 336–Transitional Services for Exonerees (Authored by Senator Joel Anderson)
The goal of SB 336 is to extend transitional services to all inmates whose convictions were reversed pursuant to a petition for writ of habeas corpus. This bill builds off of previous NCIP-supported legislation called “Obie’s Law,” after NCIP exoneree Obie Anthony, to broaden the category of people for whom services would be available. Under the previously passed legislation, Obie was not, in the end, eligible for the services provided under the law which bears his name. Obie’s Law made re-entry services available to exonerees only if their conviction was reversed and innocence established based on very narrow, specific language: new evidence of innocence that “completely undermines the prosecution’s case and points unerringly to innocence.” SB 336 which will change that language and make re-entry services available to individuals who successfully establish their innocence based on new evidence which would have “more likely than not changed the outcome at trial” or based on challenging false scientific evidence.
On April 4, 2017 the bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee and went before appropriations. On May 26, the bill came out of suspense and now heads to the Senate floor. NCIP is partnering with the California Innocence Project on this bill.
Assembly Bill (AB) 359–Jailhouse Informants Bill (Authored by Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer)
The goal of AB 359 is to regulate the use of jailhouse informants to prevent wrongful convictions. The bill extends the cap on incentives given to jailhouse informants to include non-monetary benefits (e.g. reduced sentences), and requires law enforcement to document the use of jailhouse informants and incentives provided during investigations and where convictions are obtained. After highly publicized scandals involving informants in a variety of California jurisdictions, this bill seeks to safeguard some of the practices in using informants and increases transparency which will help prevent wrongful convictions based on false or incentivized testimony.
On March 21, 2017, the bill unanimously passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, despite concerns expressed from the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) and California Sheriff’s Department. However, the bill is still in need of further amendments to eliminate opposition to allow it to pass out of the Assembly and move over to the Senate. NCIP is working with a number of partners on AB 359 including the ACLU, the California Association of Criminal Justice (CACJ), the California Innocence Project, and Loyola Project for the Innocent.
AB 1128–Evidence Retention (Authored by Assembly member Dr. Shirley Weber)
The goal of AB 1128 is to close the loophole that allows for the destruction of court exhibits and physical evidence once proper notice is given to appropriate parties. “Notice” often does not reach an inmate and the destruction of evidence significantly hinders post-conviction appeals or innocence claims. The bill will require that exhibits and physical evidence are retained in homicide and sexual assault cases for one year past the length of an inmate’s term of imprisonment.
On April 18, 2017 the bill unanimously passed through the Assembly Public Safety Committee with support from the CDAA, California Public Defenders Association, CACJ, and the ACLU. The Judicial Council opposed the bill due to the limited resources of the courts. The bill then went to appropriations where it met some fiscal obstacles and is now in the suspense file. NCIP partnered with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the California Innocence Project, and the Loyola Project for the Innocent on this bill.