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New Criminal Justice Reform Laws in California Taking Effect in 2021

On January 1, 2021, two new laws will take effect in California. One is Assembly Bill 1950, which places caps on the maximum terms of probation courts can impose. The other is Assembly Bill 3234, which gives judges discretion in placing misdemeanor offenders in pretrial diversion programs.

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What AB 1950 Does

AB 1950 reduces the length of time a defendant convicted of a misdemeanor or felony can be placed on probation. Under the new law, the longest a person can be under supervised release for misdemeanors is 1 year. Currently, the maximum term is 3 years. However, there is an exception. If the statutory maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is more than 3 years, the court can place the defendant on probation for longer than 1 year, but no more than the stated term of incarceration for the crime.

When the new law takes effect, the maximum term of probation for felonies will drop from 5 years to 2 years.

Two circumstances exist in which the probation cap for felonies does not apply:

  1. The statute for the offense enumerates a specific length of probation; and
  2. The offense is a violent felony, such as murder, rape, or mayhem

The Benefits of Reduced Probation Maximums

Probation is a sanction a court can impose upon a defendant instead of incarceration or as a condition of release. As part of probation, the individual must abide by specific terms. A judge has discretion in setting the conditions, which can include orders to complete treatment programs, participate in community service work, and seek gainful employment. If a probationer fails to fulfill the terms, the judge can issue a warrant for their arrest, and they may be incarcerated.

According to the Chief Probation Officers of California, in 2018, 356,000 people were on probation. REFORM Alliance noted that it costs $4,400 annually to hold people on probation, and the State spends $2 billion to re-incarcerate probation violators.

Not only will the caps on probationary terms help keep government spending down, but they will also keep people out of jail for small violations. Additionally, if the money saved is reinvested into rehabilitation and treatment programs, such as mental health services, offenders could get the care they need to help manage their condition, which could, in turn, reduce crime and decrease jail and prison populations.

What AB 3234 Does

When AB 3234 goes into effect in January, it will give California judges the discretion to place misdemeanor offenders in pretrial diversion programs, regardless of whether the prosecutor objects to it. The judge will also impose upon the defendant the conditions and terms they deem necessary for the situation. If the defendant does not comply, the court can end their program and resume criminal proceedings.

The pretrial diversion program will be available for first-time misdemeanor offenders unless they committed:

  • A crime that requires sex offender registration,
  • An abandonment and neglect of children offense,
  • A domestic battery crime, or
  • A stalking and harassing offense

The Benefits of Pretrial Diversion Programs

Many benefits come with the passage of AB 3234. It allows first-time misdemeanor offenders to avoid incarceration, thus leading to a decrease in jail population. When a person is placed in a pretrial diversion program, they are required to complete treatment and/or courses designed to rehabilitate them and reduce recidivism instead of being held in custody.

Another benefit of the new law is that it gives people second chances. Not only will they avoid jail time, but upon successful completion of court-ordered conditions, their case will be dismissed. Thus, they will not have an arrest or conviction on their record, and lawfully they can say that they have never been arrested for a crime. This has significant social and personal implications, as a mark on a criminal record can make it hard for a person to get a job, find a place to live, or even qualify for a loan. In a statement, Assembly member Phil Ting, AB 3234’s primary sponsor, said that “a second chance is sometimes all someone needs to turn their life around.”

AB 3234 also has financial benefits for courts. Ting noted that after a pilot diversion program launched in Los Angeles County, with similar provisions as the new law, misdemeanor jury trials decreased over two years, leading to a daily savings of $12,000.

If you have questions about the new laws coming to California and how they may affect your case, or if you need to discuss your criminal charge, call John Pozza Attorney at Law, PLC at (951) 749-5598 or submit an online contact form. We provide legal representation in Murrieta and the surrounding areas.