State legislators may modify Prop. 57, expand definition of violent crimes

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The state Senate is considering a bill that could expand the definition of violent crimes.

State Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, authored SB 75 to modify Proposition 57, which passed in November and increased the likelihood of parole for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. Bates’ bill, however, would expand the definition of violent felonies to include human trafficking involving a minor, assault with a deadly weapon, domestic violence and rape of an unconscious person, among other offenses.

“(These offenders’) problems run wide and deep, and they really need to be under supervision for much longer than the proposition suggests they should be,” Bates said.

Bates said having offenders of these types of crimes on the streets would be a “danger to society” and advocated for their rehabilitation within the prison system.

The bill is in the introductory stage, awaiting a hearing that should happen within the next few weeks, according to Ronald Ongtoaboc, Bates’ communications director.

But Franklin Zimring, a William G. Simon professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, said he believed the bill could be more for political effect than actual legislative changes.

“My guess is that you could get a lot of political mileage out of popping this in,” Zimring said. “But it is so strange to have something automatically follow a successful proposition in the legislator.”

Hadar Aviram, professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, said she completely disagreed with the bill.

Aviram explained that nonviolent offenders are able to stand before a parole board to argue that they have been rehabilitated, while violent offenders are unable to do so. She added that the new bill wouldn’t allow some offenders to argue their case before a parole board, as more crimes would be considered violent.

“There is no significant correlation between the type of offense the inmate is serving time for and the risk of reoffending,” Aviram said. “Rather than offering all offenders an opportunity to show that they have undergone rehabilitation, this new proposal will simply lump more inmates into the category of offenders that will not benefit from a parole hearing.”

Bates said, however, that she has received many positive comments regarding the bill. She added that many people were surprised that some of these crimes were considered nonviolent under current laws.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, also the Senate chair of the public safety committee, said she couldn’t say whether she would vote in favor of the bill but emphasized that the Senate will have the “appropriate hearing” for it.

We will of course have our hearing, and the senator will be able to present her perspective,” Skinner said. “We will see how that discussion goes.”

Contact Ahna Straube at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @akstraube.