The California Innocence Coalition – the Northern California Innocence Project, the California Innocence Project, Loyola Project for the Innocent, and the Los Angeles Innocence Project – work on policy reform to help reduce the risks of a wrongful conviction, intervene when a wrongful conviction has occurred, and to assist our freed clients in transitioning home upon their release from prison.
SB 97 – Righting Wrongful Convictions
On January 18, 2023, Senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 97, Righting Wrongful Convictions. This bill amends California’s law relating to petitions for writ of habeas corpus (Penal Code section 1473). Over the last several years, California’s legislature has made great efforts to improve and strengthen these laws to ensure justice for the innocent and for victims and survivors of crime. However, technical requirements or narrow interpretations of these laws have resulted in delayed justice for many. With the increase in prosecutor attention to wrongful convictions and a desire by many offices to rectify these wrongs, SB 97 improves these laws to prevent delay and allow prosecuting agencies to have a more recognized responsibility in correcting these injustices.
SB 78 – Criminal Procedure: Factual Innocence
On January 12, 2023, Senator Steve Glazer (principal co-author Senator Josh Becker) introduced SB 78, Criminal Procedure: Factual Innocence. This bill further extends SB 446 — passed in 2021 — to ensure that the two processes in seeking compensation for the wrongfully convicted (either through the Victim’s Compensation Board or the courts) are aligned and not unduly burdensome on the state litigators responding to these claims. In 2021, SB 446 (also authored by Senators Glazer and Becker) was a significant piece of legislation that was passed making a more fair and equitable compensation process by shifting the burden of proof from the wrongfully convicted person to the Attorney General in compensation proceedings that proceed in front of the Victim’s Compensation Board. However, SB 446 did not shift that burden to the District Attorney’s office, the party of interest for the state, if a wrongfully convicted person instead chose to pursue the existing process through the court. Instead of placing the burden of proof on the wrongfully convicted to prove to the court that they are factually innocent after they spent years proving to the court that they were wrongfully convicted and their convictions were reversed and dismissed, SB 78 recognizes these individuals are once again presumed innocent, and therefore the burden instead shifts to the District Attorney. The District Attorney’s office must then prove by clear and convincing evidence that the wrongfully convicted is not entitled to compensation.
Bills Supported by the California Innocence Coalition
Equity in Resentencing
AB 600 provides revisions to the “second look” resentencing statute (Penal Code Section 1172.1) to improve the resentencing process by addressing procedural and technical issues, expanding judicial authority and providing clarity for courts when applying the law.
The California Racial Justice Act Claims
AB 1118 makes technical changes to the procedures for claims under the Racial Justice Act (RJA) by clarifying that RJA claims can be raised on appeal, or, if additional evidence is needed, permits individuals to request stay of an appeal and remand to the trial court to file a motion.
The California Mandela Act
AB 280, The California Mandela Act, provides a clear definition of what constitutes solitary confinement across all facilities and sets limits on how it can be used. This bill also ends the use of solitary confinement for specific populations (pregnant, elderly, the seriously disabled).