PJLC Contributes to Revision of State’s Gang Laws – Will Lead to Thousands of Fairer, Less Racially Discriminatory Sentences
October 8, 2021
Today, Governor Newsom signed into law State Senator Sydney Kamlager’s AB 333, which the PJLC helped draft. This revision of the Penal Code closes loopholes in state laws that allow overbroad and discriminatory gang enhancements to be added to criminal sentences. While AB 333 did not eliminate gang enhancements entirely, as the PJLC continues to recommend, AB 333 will decrease the number of gang prosecutions, perhaps dramatically. The result will be fewer people receiving indefensibly long sentences, trials will be fairer, and California will be a step closer to eliminating law enforcement’s counterproductive use of anti-gang policing as a proxy for racial profiling.
Work towards rewriting California’s gang enhancement law began in 2020, when PJLC’s Sean Garcia-Leys was invited to testify to Governor Newsom’s Committee on Revision of the Penal Code. There, Mr. Garcia-Leys and Lisa Romo of the State Public Defender’s Office explained to the Committee how prosecutors have near limitless discretion to define a gang and gang crime. Prosecutors are able to describe nearly any neighborhood as a “gang neighborhood,” nearly anyone from those neighborhoods as “gang participants,” and nearly any crime as “furthering the interests of the gang.” Unsurprisingly, this power was frequently abused but nearly exclusively to defendants of color.
Based on Mr. Garcia-Leys’ and Ms. Romo’s testimony, the Committee produced a report that included their recommendations, and these recommendations were then introduced to the Legislature by State Senator Kamlager as AB 333. The initial draft included several of the paragraphs of statutory language that Mr. Garcia-Leys drafted immediately after testifying to the Committee.
When the PJLC formed in 2021, we were invited to provide technical assistance to Senator Kamlager’s office as part of the team of attorneys who revised the bill’s statutory language as it proceeded through committees. It passed through the legislature and was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom today. The law takes effect January 1, 2022.
Now that the bill has passed, the PJLC will continue to work to make sure the new law is implemented and will collect data to measure its effect.