CA State Senator Dave Cortese Drafts Bill to Allow Judicial Review of Decades-Old Sentences

PC: Santa Clara County via

By Cynthia Hoang-Duong

SAN JOSE, CA – Bay Area State Senator Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) has announced he’s drafted SB 94, a progressive criminal justice reform bill to provide Californians who received the death penalty or are serving life in prison—especially elderly prisoners—with the opportunity to have their cases reviewed.

Cortese said in a prepared statement, 88 percent of people serving life without parole fall within the “lowest risk” range on the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)’s California Static Risk scale.

Elderly individuals, particularly, are unlikely to commit further offenses after their release, noted Cortese.

“California’s rapidly aging prison population is creating a public health crisis that comes at a significant cost to the state,” says Glenn Backes, a policy consultant to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Regarding the effects of the bill, Backes believes that it “allows judges to look at very old cases and consider mitigating factors, including advanced age and reduced risk, when considering whether sentences imposed in the 1970s and 1980s are still in the interest of justice.”

The recidivism rate for individuals who were sentenced to life without parole—before their sentences were reduced and they were released—is zero percent, according to the Cortese statement.

The Senator’s office said, under the measure, individuals who have served at least 20 years of their sentences and whose crimes were committed before June 5, 1990, may petition for judges to review special circumstance crimes.

“The Legislature has adopted several laws over the last decade that take into account mitigating factors when imposing a sentencing, including reforms for victims of intimate partner violence, human trafficking, or those with intellectual disability,” said Senator Cortese.

Cortese argued, “This has, in essence, created an inequitable system whereby individuals are locked into extreme sentences from decades ago that are inconsistent with our present-day sentencing schemes.”

SB 94 will address this by authorizing judges to review decade-old cases and exercise the judicial discretion to uphold or reduce the individual’s sentence, the lawmaker explained.

As April Grayson of the Young Women’s Freedom Center, said, “There are people languishing in prison, who if they were sentenced today, would get a more just sentence. This bill identifies a relatively small group of very old cases, from 1990 and before, for judicial review and consideration of resentencing consistent with current state law.”

The bill is sponsored by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Felony Murder Elimination Project, California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Families United to End Life Without Parole, and The Sister Warriors Freedom Coalition.

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