A prison guard escorts an inmate at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A bill allowing some inmates sentenced to life without parole the chance of a reduced sentence did not receive enough votes to proceed past the Assembly floor Sept. 14 and was subsequently placed on the inactive file—thus allowing the measure to be reconsidered next year.
“This fight isn’t over yet,” Assemblyman Juan Alanis (R-Modesto)—who voted against the measure—told The Epoch Times by email Sept. 19. “People need to remain vigilant in this fight and be prepared to speak with even a louder voice in 2024.”
At issue is Senate Bill 94, authored by Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), and five Democratic co-authors, designed to create a process for such inmates sentenced before June 5, 1990, to seek a recall of their sentence.
The bill would apply to those convicted of murder with special circumstances, including torture, poison, and kidnapping.
Stiff debate followed the legislation throughout the Legislature, as it drew scrutiny from Republican lawmakers.
Some argued that the ongoing debate about criminal justice reform and public safety is about placing the consideration of victims above that of the perpetrators.
“There is a real divide right now in the Legislature over whose rights should be prioritized higher—victims or criminals. I believe that victims should take priority over those who commit crimes, especially violent and heinous crimes,” Mr. Alanis said. “Victims of the worst crimes have the right to justice.”
Given the possibility of release, victims’ family members are subject to traumatic emotional distress, and community safety is jeopardized, according to the lawmaker.
“The families that have had a loved one murdered, or a victim of violent rape should not be traumatized again by having their murderer’s or predator’s sentence reduced after already having the closure of our justice system,” Mr. Alanis said. “While I believe in rehabilitation, some criminals are too dangerous to be released back into our communities and neighborhoods.”
A California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer opens the gate for an inmate who is leaving the exercise yard at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif., on Aug. 15, 2016. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Opponents of the measure—including a list of law enforcement agencies and district attorneys from across the state—applauded the bill’s lack of progress, highlighted the need for life without parole to mean what it says, and said the state avoided potentially tragic circumstances by stalling the proposal.
“California narrowly escaped another public safety disaster when SB 94 ... wasn’t taken up for a vote and died its own quiet death, unlike the horrific deaths the victims suffered at the hands of their own murderers,” Todd Spitzer, Orange County district attorney, said in a statement Sept. 15 on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Life without the possibility of parole should mean just that, and there are crimes that are so horrific that juries, judges, and appellate courts have ruled that the perpetrators of those crimes deserve to die in prison without any opportunity for parole.”
Referencing the need for balance in the judicial system, the district attorney expressed gratitude for the Assembly’s decision and stressed the injustice to victims’ family members he believes would have occurred had murderers been allowed a chance for parole.
“Thankfully, this time, the voices of victims were heard over the voices of criminals, and SB 94 was defeated,” Mr. Spitzer stated. “[This bill] would have undone lawful sentences for people who have committed some of California’s most heinous crimes—and given them another chance at freedom. Meanwhile, victims of violent crimes would have been robbed of the justice they thought they had been served.”
Nearly 100 individuals and organizations are listed as supporting the bill in the Legislative analyses, including Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, the California Public Defenders Association, and the Felony Murder Elimination Project—a California nonprofit focused on changing the state’s life without parole guidelines for special circumstance murder convictions.
A California State Prison inmate works on the garden in the prison yard, in Vacaville, Calif., on Oct. 19, 2015. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Arguments in favor of the proposal suggested the bill does not guarantee release, as the process would include a petition and a comprehensive review by a judge and parole board before such could be granted.
“This bill does not automatically let anyone out of prison,” Mr. Cortese said in support in the Assembly analysis Sept. 7. “This bill simply creates a process for the judicial review of cases that have not been looked at in decades.”
With no path forward this year after Majority Leader Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Culver City) placed the bill on the inactive file Sept. 14, the measure is now a two-year bill.
The measure will be active in January, a spokesperson for Sen. Cortese’s office told The Epoch Times by email Sept. 19.