Cortese Introduces Murder Sentence Reform Bill

State Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) this week announced the introduction of a bill that would reform mandatory sentencing laws.

Senate Bill 300 would eliminate a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for people convicted of a murder charge with special circumstances who did not commit the murder themselves.

Under current state law, the mandatory sentence for murders with “special circumstances” such as occurring during a robbery or burglary or other crime, is death or life in prison without the possibility of parole—even if the person was an accomplice who did not kill anyone or intend to do so.

SB 300 will give judges the ability to decide whether the special circumstance allegation should be found true for sentencing purposes, which would decide whether the person would be eligible for parole.

“Sentencing someone to die in prison by death penalty or without parole, is virtually unheard of in much of the world,” Cortese said in announcing the bill earlier this week. “California not only regularly imposes these sentences but requires judges to impose life without the possibility of parole for certain categories of offenses even on defendants who did not kill or intend a person to be killed.”

SB 300 would also provide an avenue for incarcerated people to petition the court for re-sentencing, offering recourse to hundreds of Californians awaiting execution or condemned to die in prison.

Cortese said SB 300 would give them the opportunity to be re-sentenced and the possibility to earn parole through rehabilitative programming, work, and good behavior.

SB 300 will require a two-thirds vote in both the state Assembly and Senate and be signed by the governor to go into effect.

5 Comments

  1. “Senate Bill 300 would eliminate a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for people convicted of a murder charge with special circumstances who did not commit the murder themselves.”

    What Mr. Cortese wants to do is take the right of the people (serving on juries and electing prosecutors) to determine the fate of those whose criminal acts result in murder and transfer it to judges increasingly vulnerable to the terror tactics of radical political partisans.

    Stalin constructed a terror-controlled judicial system in the USSR to ensure it produced not justice but politically desirable results. What is it about such a system that appeals to Mr. Cortese?

  2. Here is the bill https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB300
    There are many exceptions and its not part of any coordinated “legal reform”. More chipping at the sides – almost looks like a special favor for a constituent?

    IMHO this bill would need to be part of a broader discussion that needs to take a back seat to handle the more pressing needs. I have real reservations about this legislators ability to work on the right things at the right time. Remember he tried to sell a serious tax hike last year so the COVID hole could be filled without a lot of work on his part. It failed. So will this bill but not before it wastes alot of time.

    cessante ratione legis cessat ipsa lex
    when the reason for the law ceases, the law itself ceases

  3. “Sentencing someone to die in prison by death penalty or without parole, is virtually unheard of in much of the world.”

    So is shutting down economies.

  4. What is not said in this article is that every person this bill seeks to help has previously been determined by a jury (unless they pled guilty) to have been a major participant in a dangerous felony and have acted with reckless indifference to human life. In practice that means the defendant had a role far greater than the stereotypical getaway driver in a robbery and that they had a mental state that was with full awareness that someone could, and probably would, be killed.

    The article obscures the fact that, while it will be a judge who makes the determination, it will be the prosecution who has to re-prove the special special circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt, sometimes decades after the killing or killings. Often the evidence is lost due to witnesses who have died, and as a result the defendant gets an underserved windfall.

    Of course, totally absent in this article is any discussion about the effect on the victims families by reopening these cases. The California constitution gives victims the right to a prompt and final conclusion of their case. Finality is not served by starting a whole round of proceedings and proof decades later. Apparently Mr. Cortese does not care.

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