Major reforms to California’s criminal justice system are set to take effect on January 1, 2021. Key changes include enlightening the treatment of criminal offenders, reducing those required to register as sex offenders for life by up to 90%, reforming the juvenile justice system, expanding ex-felons’ rights, and banning police chokeholds, reforming jury selection, and fixing inequitable sentencing.
“California is enacting criminal justice reforms to shift the balance from punishment and police abuses to rehabilitation and the fair treatment of defendants. The momentum for change has come from the growing costs of overcrowded prisons, high recidivism and police abuses laid bare by incidents like George Floyd’s death,” says Tsion Chudnovsky, the founder of Chudnovsky Law, a California criminal defense law firm.
What are the Key Changes Taking Effect in 2021?
- Misdemeanor diversion: AB 3234 authorizes judges to offer misdemeanor diversion to most offenders. If terms are complied with, the criminal action will be dismissed and the record erased. Some domestic violence charges, stalking, and registrable sex offenses are not eligible. (Effective Jan. 1)
- Reduced sex offender registration: SB 384 could reduce those required to register for life by up to 90%. The new three-tier system defines registration requirement terms of 10 years, 20 years, or a lifetime, depending upon the offense’s severity. (Effective Jan. 1)
- Banning chokeholds: AB 1196 bans chokeholds and carotid holds by law enforcement.
- Restoring felon voting rights: Proposition 17 gives approximately 50,000 felons on probation the right to vote.
- False reports and harassment: AB 1775 makes false 911 calls based on someone’s race, gender, religion, or other types of discrimination, a hate crime.
- Capped probation terms: AB 1950 enacts a maximum one-year probation term for misdemeanor offenses and two years for felony offenses, with some exceptions. (Effective Jan. 1)
- Problem juveniles in school: AB 901 changes punishment of insubordinate, disorderly students from probation programs to community-based programs. Additional changes also strive to remove problematic students from court supervision.
- Phasing out juvenile prisons: Juvenile justice realignment bill SB 823 will replace the remaining juvenile prisons with the Office of Youth and Community Restoration. (Effective July 1)
- Hiding juvenile records: AB 2425 protects the records of juvenile offenders from public inspection. (Effective Jan. 1)
- The sheriff oversight board established: AB 1185 empowers the establishment of a sheriff oversight board and inspector general in each county with subpoena power to oversee the sheriff.
- California Racial Justice Act: AB 2524 allows persons charged or convicted of a crime to challenge racial bias that may have occurred in their case in order to pursue a new trial or re-sentencing. (Effective Jan. 1)
Chudnovsky Law has published an online guide explaining all the new laws in-depth here.