New California Law Uses Racial Disparities To Cut Prison Sentences

Prisoner (Hasan Almasi for Unsplash)

A new California law now allows criminal defendants from disproportionately-convicted racial groups to challenge lawful convictions as state leaders seek to balance criminal justice reform with skyrocketing violent crime. The law also allows for additional challenges in the case of demonstrated racial bias inside or outside the court, or if a conviction or sentencing could have negative immigration consequences.

Law enforcement and prosecutors say this act has reversed otherwise lawful convictions of violent individuals, threatening public safety, while criminal justice advocates say that the existence of racial disparities in conviction and sentencing are evidence of injustice.

Under the Racial Justice Act, all a criminal defendant has to do to challenge a conviction or sentencing is present racial bias related to trials, or in the absence of bias, county-level data finding members of an individual’s race or national origin face more arrests, serious charges or longer sentences than another group.