Current Legislative Agenda
(Senators Bradford, Glazer, Monning, Roth, and Wiener) Automatic Compensation For Exonerees
California has long recognized its obligation to compensate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted as evidenced by the decades old California Penal Codes sections 4900 – 4904. However, the current process requires exonerees to continue to litigate their cases for years after their release from custody to obtain compensation, despite having overcome huge obstacles to get their convictions reversed and charges dismissed in the first place. Additionally, not all exonerees are compensated for their wrongful incarceration despite a court having reversed their convictions and charges dismissed. SB 269 is an effort to make the compensation process more efficient, consistent and just for all exonerees.
Last year NCIP had a huge victory with a bill that extended the right to post-conviction discovery to a larger number of convicted inmates. The impetus for this change was to make the review of post-conviction cases more expeditious and complete in the most high stakes cases. However, a last minute amendment to the bill made the law only applicable to individuals convicted from January 1, 2019 forward, lessening the impact of the legislation which was to benefit those currently convicted and in post-conviction proceedings. This year's bill is focused on making sure the right to post-conviction discovery is available to those currently incarcerated.
Past Legislative Action
(mandates law enforcement’s use of eyewitness identification best practices)
On September 30, 2018 Governor Brown signed NCIP co-sponsored SB 923 into law marking a huge step forward in eyewitness identification reform in California and capping a years-long effort by many to get legislation passed in California. Authored by Senator Scott Weiner, SB 923 mandates statewide use of best practices by law enforcement when conducting photo and live lineups. Law enforcement’s compliance with these widely accepted best practices improves the reliability of eyewitness identifications, while their failure to use these practices increases the risk of misidentification and a wrongful conviction. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2020, allowing law enforcement agencies across the state time to train personnel in eyewitness identification best practice procedures.
(provides more reasonable and timely access to discovery materials post-conviction)
On September 18, 2018, Governor Brown signed NCIP co-sponsored AB 1987 which provides more reasonable and timely access to discovery materials post-conviction. Authored by Assemblymember Tom Lackey, the bill also requires trial counsel to retain a copy of a client’s files for the term of imprisonment where a person is convicted of a serious or violent felony resulting in a sentence of 15 years or more. Lack of access to discovery, because a case file has been destroyed or because we are not permitted to access the state’s file, is one of the biggest hurdles NCIP faces in case investigation. AB 1987 allows us to find and pursue cases of innocence faster, avoiding the waste of years and resources.
(makes re-entry services available to a wider group of exonerees)
On October 12, 2017, Governor Brown signed SB 336. Authored by Senator Joel Anderson, SB 336 expands the eligibility of wrongfully convicted individuals to receive transitional services after their release from prison. SB 336 was an amendment to Obie’s law, passed in 2015 (named after NCIP exoneree Obie Anthony), which, for the first time, provided transitional services for exonerees. However, Obie’s Law made re-entry services available to a very limited group of exonerees whose convictions were reversed based on very narrow language. SB 336 amends this language to make re-entry services available to a wider group of exonerees.
(exempts wrongfully convicted individuals from paying state income tax on state compensation)
On October 11, 2017, Governor Brown signed AB 454. Authored by Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, AB 454 exempts wrongfully convicted individuals from paying state income tax on any monetary awards they receive from the State of California due to their wrongful incarceration. This bill makes California state law consistent with federal law which already exempts monetary awards received by exonerees from federal taxation.
(Creates a viable standard in California for proving actual innocence)
On September 30, 2016, Governor Brown signed SB 1134. Authored by Senators Leno and Anderson, SB 1134 creates a viable standard in California for using new evidence to prove actual innocence. The previous California standard required that new evidence “points unerringly to innocence” and completely undermines the prosecution’s case—a confusing and nearly unattainable standard. The new standard requires that had the new evidence been available at the original trial, the petitioner would “more likely than not” have been acquitted. The new standard brings California into line with the standard used in 43 other states and has significant positive implications for pending NCIP cases.
(Requires electronic recording of interrogation of all murder suspects)
On September 30, 2016 Governor Brown signed SB 1389. Authored by Senators Glazer and Hernandez, SB 1389 requires electronic recording of custodial interrogations of all murder suspects, adults and minors. Previous law only required police to record interrogations of juvenile murder suspects. This bill will help reduce false confessions and will support proper interrogation practices.
(Increases exoneree compensation to $140 per day wrongly incarcerated)
On October 1, 2015, Governor Brown signed SB 635 sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) which increases compensation from $100 to $140 for each day an exoneree is wrongly imprisoned, including jail time. The increase, the first since 2000, brings compensation rates up to adjust for inflation and current costs of living and better helps exonerees to rebuild their lives after release from prison. The bill, authored by Senator Jim Nielsen and co-authored by Senator Mark Leno, received unopposed bipartisan support in the California legislature. Read more here.
(Provides transitional services to certain exonerees upon release from prison)
NCIP also supported AB 672, signed into law by Governor Brown on October 1, 2015. AB 672, authored by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, requires the California Department of Corrections to help exonerees obtain identification cards and transitional services after their release from prison. The bill is named Obie’s Law after NCIP exoneree Obie Anthony who testified in support of it.
(Improves access to physical and biological evidence and to DNA testing)
On September 25, 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 980, sponsored by the Northern California Innocence Project and others, which will improve the process for wrongfully convicted prisoners to obtain DNA testing. The bill, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu, gives prisoners improved access to the physical and biological evidence preserved in their cases and clarifies the procedures for obtaining DNA testing in California. The bill makes the following specific improvements to inmates’ access to DNA evidence:
- Requires law enforcement agencies to provide information about the existence of biological evidence, such as whether it has been destroyed or preserved;
- Extends the period of time inmates and their counsel have to respond to a notice of evidence destruction from 90 days to 180 days, and further extends the time for requesting DNA testing from six months to one year;
- Enables courts to order the relevant government agency to search the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database for a match in order to find the true perpetrator, in the event that the DNA test is granted and the results exclude the convicted person.
Over 300 exonerations in the United States have been based on DNA evidence, with at least eight in California, including NCIP client Johnny Williams, exonerated in 2013. Read more here.
(Expands the false testimony innocence claim to include outdated expert testimony)
Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 1058 into law on September 26, 2014, the second of two bills sponsored by NCIP to be signed this year which aid the wrongfully convicted. Authored by Sen. Mark Leno, SB 1058 will help exonerate innocent men and women who have been wrongfully convicted based on outdated expert testimony. It will help assure people wrongfully convicted based on such testimony can have their conviction overturned when the expert later admits he or she was wrong, or when new science proves the testimony wrong. Read more here.