California’s legislature has been taking steps to improve protections for residents for years. Last year was no different. With the start of 2023, new legislation is kicking in to improve conditions in Redwood City and the rest of California.
The new laws cover a wide range of subjects, from civil rights to criminal justice. Some of the most important bills will provide people accused or convicted of crimes with more rights and protections. Here’s what you need to know about new criminal laws in 2023 and how they may protect you if you’re charged with a crime.
Protections for Immigrants
In 2018, California became the nation’s first “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants. The state implemented laws providing these people with protections against being summarily deported or having their location reported to ICE by local law enforcement. This year, the state has increased these protections by limiting how immigration status can be disclosed in court.
Senate Bill 836 reinstates rules that had been repealed at the beginning of 2022. The bill prohibits courts from disclosing any person’s immigration status. The only exception is if the judge determines it to be admissible. Admissibility is to be determined in a hearing held in chambers where the jury is not present.
This provides invaluable protection for defendants, witnesses, and victims alike. The bill is intended to prevent using immigration status as a point of leverage. Undocumented immigrants may be less likely to appear as witnesses if they fear their immigration status may be revealed, for example. The law allows people of all immigration statuses to receive fair trials, appear in court, or act as witnesses without their citizenship or lack thereof being brought to attention. Justice can be carried out without putting anyone at risk of unjustified deportation.
Changes to Permitted Evidence
The evidence admitted during a criminal case is supposed to provide important information about what occurred during the alleged crime. This includes material like testimony from witnesses, pictures and materials from the crime scene, and documentation of a person’s location or relationship with the victim. Until recently, it also included a person’s “creative expressions,” such as fiction writing, art, or song lyrics.
While precedent in California courts restricted the admissibility of creative expressions as character evidence in criminal cases, it was still permitted. However, Assembly Bill 2799 ends that. The bill only allows creative expressions as character evidence if they provide information unavailable to the public or are connected to a specific crime. For example, an author’s murder mystery novel may not be used as character evidence against them in a murder trial unless it describes details of the crime.
The bill was passed to reduce the opportunity for prosecutors to create bias against defendants. Too many prosecutors used the works of creators of color to bias juries against them. In particular, rap lyrics have been used to incite bias against defendants by implying that writing violent songs or mentioning fictional crimes implies the defendant’s guilt. Under Assembly Bill 2799, this is now unlawful.
Improvements to Communication for the Incarcerated
People who are incarcerated often struggle to remain connected with the outside world. Whether in jail waiting for their trial or serving a criminal sentence, they are limited to using facility phones, video chat services, or emails to speak with loved ones or legal representation.
Many city, county, and state facilities profited off this by charging inmates for every minute of communication. Phone calls were $0.25 for ten minutes, video calls cost $2 for ten minutes, and emails were $0.05 to send or receive. Considering that many inmates have no income source or are paid pennies an hour for in-facility labor, these charges can make regular communication impossible.
Senate Bill 1008 puts an end to this practice. As of January 1st, no government facility is permitted to profit from inmate communications. This includes youth detention centers, local jails, and state prisons. All these facilities will be required to provide phone services to inmates at no charge. While this does not change the cost of video or email communication, it makes it significantly easier for incarcerated people to remain in contact with the rest of the world.
Decriminalization of Loitering for Sex Workers
Some criminal laws were first implemented with good intentions but have had outsized negative impacts. Such is the case with California’s former law against “loitering for the purpose of sex work.” Loitering as a sex worker was first criminalized as an attempt to reduce the amount of such activities in the state, under the assumption that this would remain the primary way sex workers would find clientele. However, regardless of your opinion of the criminalization of sex work, loitering in public places is no longer the primary way workers find clients. Instead, transactions are scheduled online.
As such, the law against loitering for sex work had significantly less viability to reduce prostitution. According to Senator Scott Wiener, who introduced the bill, it was primarily used by police to “target and arrest people if they are wearing tight clothes or a lot of make-up,” particularly transgender women of color.
With Senate Bill 357, loitering for sex work is explicitly decriminalized. California law enforcement will no longer have a justification to arrest these marginalized people on suspicion of solicitation. People going about their normal lives are less likely to be dragged into the criminal justice system for the act of being in public with non-standard bodies or clothing.
Discuss Your Rights in the Criminal Justice System With Proven Defense Attorneys
California is moving in the right direction by providing the accused with more rights, but the fight isn’t over. If you have been charged with a crime or had your rights violated by the criminal justice system, you deserve help. Reach out to the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib to discuss your situation and learn how you can fight back today.