Over the past several years, California citizens have witnessed several sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system. While some of these changes aim to reduce the burden on the state’s police departments and criminal justice processing centers, many members of the public worry that they are too lenient and enable a wider range of crimes to encounter minimal punishment. The newest change comes in the form of SB 889, announced by the office of State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).
This new bill would change the murder law in California, ensuring that only suspects ages 20 and older could face automatic trial as adults. One year ago, California passed SB 1391, which prevents state prosecutors from charging anyone under the age of 16 as an adult.
How Does SB 889 Work?
The new law, if passed, will change the process for prosecuting individuals between the ages of 16 and 19 for murder. If passed, SB 889 would require the prosecution to file a motion through juvenile court to prosecute a defendant between the ages of 16 and 19 as an adult. A judge would evaluate the motion and oversee a hearing in which both sides could present aggravating and mitigating evidence.
The current law allows for automatic prosecution of 18 and 19-year-olds as adults for murder due to the fact that such individuals legally qualify as adults when it comes to the typical privileges that accompany adulthood. If SB 889 passes, the judge hearing a prosecution motion would review the minor’s criminal history, the exact details of the crime in question, and determine whether juvenile rehabilitation processes would provide sufficient results. Currently, anyone convicted as a juvenile cannot remain in incarceration past their 25th birthday. This includes convictions for crimes carrying life sentences for adults. The only exception would be if there is reason to believe the individual poses a clear danger to the public.
Another area of concern for many California residents and policymakers is the fact that the bill does not include any verbiage to suggest that it would apply retroactively to those still in prison for crimes they committed as 18 and 19-year-olds. However, the bill does allow such individuals to request reviews of their cases.
Reasoning Behind the New SB 889
While many California residents and other lawmakers across the country deem this new bill as too lenient, the office of State Senator Nancy Skinner holds the position that trying 16 to 19-year-olds as adults does more harm than good. The bill argues that people in this age range are still maturing and incapable of the same level of self-awareness as adults over the age of 20. Maturity and conscientiousness are individual factors, as it is very possible for a 15-year-old to display greater maturity, work ethic, and social acuity than a 25-year-old based on innumerable factors.
Skinner’s office argues that working with young people convicted of murder increases the chances of rehabilitation and the public safety outcomes that the law should provide. Detractors of SB 889 argue that if an 18-year-old has the legal ability to vote and sign up for military service, they are capable of taking responsibility for their own actions when they commit violent crimes, including murder.
California residents have seen many changes to the state’s criminal justice system. The passing of SB 1437 and SB 1391 in 2019 introduced dramatic changes to how state prosecutors handle violent crimes. SB 1437, another bill that Senator Skinner coauthored, changed how prosecutors may handle murders committed during the course of committing another felony such as armed robbery or burglary. SB 1391 completely removed the ability to try juveniles under the age of 16 as adults, even for serious crimes like murder. Senator Skinner has also suggested legislation that would allow individuals with felony records to serve on California juries.
It is unclear whether SB 889 has enough support to pass. If it does, it could dramatically reshape the California criminal justice system in many ways and lead to more unpredictable changes in the future. If you or someone in your family faces any kind of criminal charges in the Bellflower, California area, the Law Office of Stein & Markus is here to help. We stay up to date on the latest changes in the California criminal justice system and strive to provide our clients with the most robust defense possible. Contact us today for more information about how our firm can help your case and which recent changes to California state law might influence the outcome of your case.
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