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Racial disparities can be used as grounds to challenge a conviction in California

Racial disparities can be used as grounds to challenge a conviction in California

If a racial disparity exists in the charging, sentencing, or conviction processes, the majority of Californians convicted of crimes can now seek to have their convictions overturned or their sentences reduced. These petitions, according to law enforcement agencies, undermine legitimate convictions and endanger the public.

Legislators established two additional primary avenues for convicted individuals to seek lower sentences or reversals of convictions with the Racial Justice Acts of 2020 and 2022. Inmates have the right to sue anyone involved in their trial for bias if they encounter biased language or behavior, whether inside or outside of court.

This includes situations where inmates of the same racial or ethnic background experience disproportionately high rates of arrest, serious charges, or lengthy prison terms, even when no bias exists at the individual level.

It should be noted that according to the legislation, “the defendant need not show that purposeful discrimination occurred” in order for a petition to be successful. Additionally, the statute allows undocumented immigrants a new right: the ability to seek a reversal of their convictions if they stand to have a negative impact on their immigration proceedings.

Starting in the year 2024, RJA widened its scope to encompass all incarcerated individuals in California.

The bill’s author, Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), stated that even after accounting for prior convictions and the nature of the offense, Black males with felony convictions were 42% more likely to receive a jail sentence than white men with the same conviction.

“Our criminal justice system must establish a mechanism for retroactive relief in order to address systemic racism and rectify past injustices, considering our state’s problematic history of disproportionately prosecuting and incarcerating people of color.”

The fact that Black males are 42% more likely to receive a jail term than white men convicted of a felony is cited by Kalra in the 2021 law as being established by the California Department of Justice’s Judicial Council. But the same year, Black men had a 0.8% lower conviction rate “if all other factors were held constant and the race switched to white,” according to data from the Judicial Council.

The California District Attorneys Association brought attention to the fact that “AB 256 does not require a showing of any actual prejudice or harm arising from a violation of section 745 to reverse a conviction for cases occurring after January 1, 2021” and that the RJA would invalidate legitimate convictions of vicious criminals.

In a recent commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald discussed the act and criticized it for using disproportionality to mean racial discrimination without requiring proof of deliberate bias.

Mac Donald warned The Center Square that the bill might derail California’s criminal justice system by allowing unfounded state analysis based on historical data to invalidate lawful arrests and prosecutions.

There is a significant gender gap in terms of arrest rates and sentence policies. Arrested individuals are disproportionately male (74% vs. 50% of the population). A study found that female arrestees had a higher likelihood of evading charges and convictions altogether, and were twice as likely to avoid incarceration if found guilty. In contrast, men were shown to receive 63% longer terms for the same offense as women.

When questioned about the lack of sex-based provisions in the RJA, Mac Donald expressed his hope that lawmakers would be reasonable and recognize that men make up the majority of criminal offenders, which explains why they are disproportionately represented in prison.

In contrast to the gender-neutral population of the state, 96% of those incarcerated in California’s state prisons are men and 4% are female. Inmates make up 27.5% Black, 46.1% Latino, and 20% white, compared to 5% Black, 40% Latino, and 35% white in the state’s overall population.

Mac Donald reiterated that lawmakers “should also be able to make the same judgment” in other situations if they can make that decision on gender.

About 54,500 county jail inmates and 93,600 state offenders call California home. At 250 per 100,000 people, California’s incarceration rate is 30 percent lower than the 355% national average.

State reports indicate that taxpayers incur an annual expense of almost $111,446 for every inmate.

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