ACLU on Gov.’s Budget Proposal: Off to Good Start to Protect California’s Most Vulnerable
The governor’s proposed budget would end license suspensions for failure to pay and provide funding for legal representation for immigrants facing deportation
(From Press Release)–In response to Governor Jerry Brown’s unveiling of his proposed 2017-18 budget, the American Civil Liberties Union of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy issued the following statement on behalf of its Center Director, Natasha Minsker:
“We commend Governor Brown for his bold move on driver’s license suspensions, and urge him and the legislature to be equally bold in fortifying their commitment to fairness and due process with robust funding for the Due Process for All Act (D-Hueso) and the Stronger Public Defenders Act (D-Bonta).
After years of advocacy on the matter, we are thrilled to see Governor Brown propose the elimination of driver’s license suspensions as punishment for Californians who are unable to pay off traffic fines and fees. For years, the state’s traffic court system has unfairly relied on taking money from California’s poorest residents through excessive traffic fines and fees, and subsequently driving people deeper into poverty through license suspensions. The governor’s plan is a true victory for fairness and equity, and countless Californians struggling to make ends meet.
Additionally, the inclusion of money to provide immigrants facing deportation with effective legal representation is an important next step in upholding the due process rights afforded to all. Although immigration law has been compared to the tax code in its complexity and the government has a prosecutor representing it in every case, it remains one of the only areas in American law where we force individuals, including children, to navigate a grueling legal maze alone.
In earmarking state resources for legal representation, California would reinforce two key cornerstones of our democracy – fairness and due process – at a time when a wrecking ball of bigotry and hate looms over us.
We look forward to reviewing the details of Governor Brown’s funding proposal.”
Appellate Court Overturns Law Preventing Grand Juries from Probing Police Shootings
In 2015, Governor Brown signed into law legislation drafted by Senator Holly Mitchell that would “prohibit a grand jury from inquiring into an offense . . . that involves a . . . use of [lethal] force by a peace officer” for the purpose of returning an indictment.
Senator Mitchell argued that “the outcome of the criminal grand jury proceedings can seem unfair or inexplicable” and that the “criminal grand jury system lacks transparency” and “transparency and accountability are key to establishing and keeping the public trust.”
The court heard a case which stemmed from a 2015 shooting where El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson convened a “criminal grand jury and issued subpoenas to witnesses in connection with a peace officer’s 2015 fatal shooting of a suspect, deliberately waiting until 2016 in order to challenge this legislative action.”
In the case in June 2015, the court describes: “Officers of South Lake Tahoe Police Department responded in the early morning around 2:50 a.m. to reports of suspected domestic violence at a motel. As one officer knocked on the door of the room, the other circled around back. This officer saw a man wearing only shorts climbing out of the bathroom window. He shot the man in the chest, inflicting a fatal wound. The decedent was in fact unarmed.”
The court concludes that the legislature “intrudes on the constitutional grant of authority to the criminal grand jury to issue an indictment after inquiry, which taken to its logical conclusion would allow the Legislature by statute to abrogate indictments entirely for all classes of offenses.”
Instead, the court believes, “Legislature instead must seek a constitutional amendment to accomplish the same end as section 917, or otherwise act to amend grand jury procedures in lethal force cases to achieve its objective of greater ‘transparency’ and accountability.”
The court notes that because this is “in essence” an action for “declaratory judgment of the constitutionality on its face of section 917,” the facts of the case are largely irrelevant.
The parties have treated these acts as largely undisputed.
The court notes, “There is apparently a voluntary statement to investigators, in which the officer said he had recognized the decedent, a gang member whom the officer had recently arrested for transacting in controlled substances; a person involved in the transaction was armed with a loaded gun. The officer thought the decedent was looking at him menacingly. The officer ordered the decedent to show his hands. As the decedent brought his right hand into view, the officer thought he saw the decedent holding a firearm, so the officer fired his gun once, hitting the decedent in the chest.”
Senator Mitchell’s office has not issued a statement yet on the ruling.
DA Pierson told the Bee that “the grand jury is a tool to get at the truth.”
The suspect was not armed and the review of the shooting is still pending.
Mr. Pierson told the Bee that “lawmakers had been misled by controversies over police shootings when they approved the bill.”
“Every day, peace officers put their lives on the line for all us,” Mr. Pierson said. “However, sometimes they make mistakes and sometimes they commit criminal misconduct up to murder.”
He continued, “The public is entitled to a comprehensive, professional and transparent investigation of any use of force, particularly one including the loss of life. Unfortunately, the Legislature was misled by fake news (‘hands up, don’t shoot’) and restricted our ability to conduct those investigations.”