NCIP’s legislative efforts forged ahead this spring. NCIP’s priorities for this legislative session included postconviction discovery reform, improving evidence retention in criminal cases, implementing eyewitness identification best practices, and automatic compensation for exonerees. Below is a short synopsis of the status of NCIP-sponsored bills before the legislature this session.
Assembly Bill 1987 – Post-Conviction Discovery Reform (Authored by Assemblymember Lackey)
Once a person is convicted, current California law grants a right to discovery only if the inmate was sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole (LWOP) or death. As a result, obtaining the evidence necessary to review and investigate most NCIP cases, even when the evidence exists in the hands of the prosecution, is difficult, and greatly contributes to the length of time it takes to review and investigate cases. The goal of AB 1987 is to allow the defense the same post-conviction discovery access in serious or violent felony cases with sentences of 15 years or more , as they currently have in LWOP and death cases.
On May 9th, 2018, the bill unanimously passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee with no opposition. On May 17th, AB 1987 went to the Assembly floor for a vote, where it passed. The bill will now move over to the Senate. NCIP is working in coalition with the California Innocence Project and Loyola Project for the Innocent on AB 1987.
Assembly Bill 2988 – Evidence Retention (Authored by Assemblymember Weber)
The goal of AB 2988 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 the most high stakes cases, including, violent felony, homicide and sexual assault cases, for one year past the term of an inmate’s term of imprisonment.
On April 17, 2018 the bill unanimously passed through the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill then went before the Assembly Appropriations Committee where it was placed on suspense. On May 25, 2018, the bill was taken off suspense and unanimously passed out of Assembly Appropriations. On May 30, AB 2988 went to the Assembly floor for a vote, where it passed. The bill will now move over to the Senate. NCIP is partnering with the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the California Innocence Project, and the Loyola Project for the Innocent on this bill.
Senate Bill 923 – Eyewitness Identification Best Practices (Authored by Senator Wiener and Assemblymember Levine)
Over the last 30 years, social scientists have identified core practices to reduce the risk of obtaining a misidentification, a leading cause of wrongful convictions. The goal of SB 923 is to reduce misidentifications and resulting wrongful convictions, and to increase public safety by improving the reliability of identifications through statewide adoption of eyewitness identification best practices in California.
On April 10, 2018, SB 923 passed through the Senate Public Safety committee with a virtually unanimous vote. The bill then went before the Senate Appropriations Committee where it was placed on suspense. On May 25, 2018, the bill was taken off suspense and passed out of Senate Appropriations. On May 30,SB 923 went to the Senate floor for a vote, where it passed. The bill moved over to the Assembly, and on June 12, 2018, passed out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. NCIP exoneree Franky Carrillo gave moving testimony at the committee hearing. Recently the Los Angeles Times published an editorial in favor of SB 923. NCIP is partnering with the ACLU, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on this bill.
Senate Bill 1094 (Senators Anderson, Skinner, and Glazer) Automatic Compensation for Exonerees
California Penal Codes sections 4900 – 4904 allow exonerees to seek compensation for their wrongful incarceration. Exonerees overcome huge obstacles to get their convictions reversed and charges dismissed, yet their compensation is not automatic.
In 2013, the passing of NCIP-sponsored SB 618 (Leno) was a great step allowing people who had proven their actual innocence to be granted automatic compensation. And in 2015 and 2017 respectively, NCIP-sponsored legislation SB 1058 (Leno) and SB 1134 (Leno), clarified standards by which a conviction may be reversed based on newly discovered evidence. However, these changes in the law have not been incorporated into the current compensation statute. The goal of SB 1094 is to allow for automatic compensation for exonerees in cases reversed under these laws.
On April 17, 2018, SB 1094 unanimously passed out of Senate Public Safety Committee with unprecedented public support. At the committee hearing, 60 members of the public stated their support for the bill. The bill then went before the Senate Appropriations Committee where it was placed on suspense. On May 25, 2018, the bill was taken off suspense and unanimously passed out of Senate Appropriations. On May 30, SB 1094 went to the Senate floor for a vote, where it passed with unanimous votes. The bill will now move on to the Assembly. NCIP is partnering with the ACLU, the California Innocence Project in San Diego, and Loyola Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles on this bill.
Thank you to everyone who contacted members of the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Committees in support of these bills. We could not have gotten these bills through appropriations without your and efforts. We still have a long way to go to before these bills become law, and we will keep you updated as to ways to support these legislative efforts.