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California Ends Mandatory Minimums for Non-Violent Drug Offenses, Ending Archaic War on Drugs Era Policy

The bill, authored by state Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo of Los Angeles, was backed by a coalition of state and national groups, including the California Public Defenders Association, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and a range of drug treatment professional.

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An injectable drug is loaded into a syringe while prescription medication is strewn about haphazardly.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Tuesday to end mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenses, laying to rest an archaic vestige of the War on Drugs and “tough-on-crime” policy era in California and acting on the recommendations of a state commission created to suggest changes to California’s criminal justice system.

SB7 ends mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent drug offenses, giving judges the discretion to assign alternative consequences, such as probation, treatment, or rehabilitative programs, where determined appropriate. Current law prohibits judges from doing so even for drug offenses involving marijuana, which the state has legalized for recreational use and licensed sale.

Such mandated sentencing, implemented in the late 1980s at the height of the War on Drugs, has been criticized for its role in mass incarceration and, in recent years, critics have pointed out that the laws reflect the difference in the government’s approach to the crack cocaine epidemic, which disproportionately impacted African Americans, and the opioid addiction crisis, which has heavily impacted white Americans. Some other states have already repealed their mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

The bill, authored by state Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco and Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo of Los Angeles, was backed by a coalition of state and national groups, including the California Public Defenders Association, Drug Policy Alliance, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, and a range of drug treatment professional.

“Our prisons and jails are filled with people — particularly from communities of color — who have committed low-level, nonviolent drug offenses and who would be much better served by non-carceral options like probation, rehabilitation and treatment,” Weiner said in a written statement after Newsom’s signing. “[SB7] is an important measure that will help end California’s system of mass incarceration.”

The Committee on Revising the Penal Code, a committee established in 2019 to recommend changes to California’s criminal laws, recommended ending mandatory minimums in California in its first annual report in 2020. “Aspects of California’s criminal legal system are undeniably broken,” the report stated at the time. “The current system has racial inequity at its core,” and “people of color are disproportionately punished under state laws.”

Ending mandatory minimums was just one of 10 recommendations made by the committee. Others included establishing a process for reviewing the sentences of people already sentenced under unduly harsh sentencing laws, eliminating incarceration for certain traffic offenses, and requiring that short prison sentences be served in county jail instead of prison.

Legislators are considering some of the committee’s other recommendations.

    This story was written using information from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Committee on Revising the Penal Code.

City Government

Mayor Breed Announces Privately Funded Rewards for Information Leading to Conviction of Auto Burglary Fencing Operators

New initiative will bolster the success of recent strategic deployments to high-traffic tourism, workplace, and retail destinations

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Car thief stealing a car./ iStock

Mayor London N. Breed announced a privately funded cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals involved in organized criminal fencing operations known to fuel vehicle smash-and-grabs. 

Announced Tuesday, this initiative builds on Breed’s recent expansion of community-based ambassadors and police patrols to high-traffic businesses, tourist, and retail destinations, which has resulted in a 37% drop in citywide auto burglaries from the year’s July 4 highpoint to the most recent reporting period.

The new initiative is a keystone element in a comprehensive auto burglary strategy that aims to educate motorists and visitors; deter, investigate and arrest active auto burglars; and shut down the upstream criminal enterprises that traffic in stolen goods, fueling street-level auto burglaries. 

Investigators within the San Francisco Police Department and among regional law enforcement partner agencies in Northern California estimate that fewer than a dozen regular auto burglary crews are responsible for the large majority of auto burglaries that have plagued Bay Area cities in recent years.

“The frequent auto burglaries in San Francisco are not victimless crimes, they have real financial and emotional consequences for the victims and we’re continuing to work to hold people who commit these crimes accountable,” said Breed. “These break-ins hurt our residents, especially working families who do not have the time or money to deal with the effects, as well as visitors to our City whose experiences are too often tarnished after an otherwise positive experience.

“We’ve made good progress in recent months since announcing our Tourism Deployment Plan, but there’s still more work to do to ensure that everyone feels safe on our streets. I want to thank our partners in the private sector who understand the urgency of this issue, and we want to be very clear to the organized groups who are responsible for the vast majority of these crimes that we are committing the resources and the manpower to hold you accountable.”

The new cash reward system, which is being fully funded by private donors in the hospitality and tourism industry, will provide monetary incentives in exchange for information regarding high-level leaders of organized auto burglary fencing operations. 

Individuals that provide accurate and transparent information will be compensated up to $100,000 pending the arrest and conviction of individuals involved. In total, funds raised are in excess of $225,000 so far.

“Organized crime has been driving a lot of the theft in this city. The people at the top have been raking in huge sums of money by paying street-level criminals to do all their stealing for them, making working families miserable in the process. This initiative is going to help us take these rings apart,” said Sharky Laguana, president of the Small Business Commission.

Recent initiatives helping to reduce auto burglaries

In recent months, Breed has announced the strategic deployments of police and community-based ambassadors to support San Francisco’s reemergence from COVID-19 restrictions and deter property crimes likely to accompany renewed economic activity — including auto burglaries.

Breed’s Tourism Deployment Plan, announced in July, assigned 26 additional police officers on bicycle and foot patrols to an array of high-traffic and highly sought-after travel destinations citywide. 

Public safety deployments of police officers and community-based partners were also key elements of the Mayor’s Mid-Market Vibrancy and Safety Plan launched in May and the Organized Retail Crime Initiative, which Breed announced last month. 

The combined emphasis on high-visibility patrols in areas long targeted by auto burglars has been instrumental in reducing auto burglary rates — even as tourism and economic activity begin returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The San Francisco Police Department has also stepped up its “Park Smart” public awareness campaign in recent months. Park Smart is a collaboration among SFPD, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Department of Emergency Management, SF SAFE, the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District, and local tourism and travel partners. 

Educating motorists and visitors on how to help prevent vehicle burglaries by taking common-sense precautions, Park Smart’s recommended strategies when parking vehicles in San Francisco include placing items in trunks; never leaving valuables in view; and parking in lots staffed with attendants whenever possible.

2021 CompStat numbers on auto burglaries in San Francisco

According to San Francisco Police Department CompStat data, the 2021 highpoint for auto burglaries came just two weeks after California began to emerge from its COVID-19 lockdown, with 566 auto burglaries reported citywide for the week ending July 4, 2021.

Deployments of police and community-based patrols launched the following week under Mayor Breed’s Tourism Deployment Plan have since led to a sustained drop in auto burglaries — even with Fleet Week, San Francisco Giants post-season games, the return of Golden State Warriors’ games to Chase Center and other attractions ushering in a comeback in visitors to the City.

SFPD CompStat data for the most recently reported period, for the week ending Oct. 17, 2021, show that a total of 358 auto break-ins were committed in San Francisco — a drop of 37 percent from the July 4 holiday.

Auto burglary incident counts by year have generally trended down since 2017, when San Francisco recorded 31,409 such incidents. Although 2021 has predictably trended higher than the COVID-19 lockdown year of 2020, it remains well below pre-pandemic rates that reached 25,886 reported auto burglaries for the 2019 calendar year.

“Today’s announcement adds a promising new tool to the coordinated efforts of public and private sector partners to fight auto burglaries in San Francisco,” said Chief of Police Bill Scott. “We know the profit motives of a few upstream fencing operations are fueling thousands of auto burglaries and other kinds of thefts. This generously funded cash reward enables us to flip the script on profit motives — creating an incentive that can help us bring these criminal enterprises to justice.

“On behalf of all of us in the San Francisco Police Department, we’re grateful to the funders of this generous partnership with our City. We thank Mayor Breed for her leadership, and we’re pleased to see strategic deployments of our officers and our community partners making progress to keep auto burglaries down. We’re very hopeful that this new initiative will help make San Francisco’s so-far successful efforts on auto burglaries even more successful moving forward.”

Staff reductions due to unvaccinated officers won’t affect patrol functions

Given the San Francisco Police Department’s emphasis on adequately staffing such core police functions as patrol and investigations, reductions in force owing to unvaccinated SFPD members will have no effect on existing high-visibility deployments. 

Most SFPD employees, including all sworn members, were required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 13, 2021, under the City’s COVID-19 vaccination policy and the San Francisco County Health Officer’s “Safer Return Together” health order. 

Following the October 13 deadline last Thursday, 76 SFPD officers — or 3.5% of the Department’s sworn members — remained unvaccinated and are ineligible to perform policing functions.

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Community

Marin County Sheriff Sued for Illegally Sharing Drivers’ License Plate Data

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

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An example of ALPRs (www.pasadenanow.org)

Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle has been sued for illegally sharing millions of local drivers’ license plates and location data, captured by a network of cameras his office uses, with hundreds of federal and out-of-state agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), over a dozen other federal law enforcement agencies, and more than 400 out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

The suit seeks to end the sheriff’s illegal practice of giving hundreds of agencies outside California access to a database of license plate scans used to identify and track people, revealing where they live and work, when they visit friends or drop their kids at school, and when they attend religious services or protests.

The lawsuit was filed in Marin County Superior Court by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and attorney Michael T. Risher representing community activists Lisa Bennett, Cesar S. Lagleva, and Tara Evans, who are longtime Marin community members.

License plate scans occur through Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs): high-speed cameras mounted in a fixed location or atop police cars moving through the community that automatically capture all license plates that come into view, recording the exact location, date, and time that the vehicle passes by.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office scans tens of thousands of license plates each month with its ALPR system. That sensitive personal information, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is stored in a database.

The sheriff permits hundreds of out-of-state agencies and several federal entities, including the Department of Homeland Security, to run queries of a license plate against information the sheriff has collected. The agencies are also able to compare their own bulk lists of vehicle license plates of interest, known as “hot lists,” against the ALPR information collected by the sheriff’s office. 

“In the hands of police, the use of ALPR technology is a threat to privacy and civil liberties, especially for immigrants. Federal immigration agencies routinely access and use ALPR information to locate, detain, and deport immigrants. The sheriff’s own records show that Sheriff Doyle is sharing ALPR information with two of the most rogue agencies in the federal government: ICE and CBP,” said Vasudha Talla, immigrants’ rights program director at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Police should not be purchasing surveillance technology, let alone facilitating the deportation and incarceration of our immigrant communities.”

California’s S.B. 34, enacted in 2015, bars this practice. The law requires agencies that use ALPR technology to implement policies to protect privacy and civil liberties, and specifically prohibits police from sharing ALPR data with entities outside of California. 

The sheriff also violates the California Values Act (S.B. 54), also known as California’s “sanctuary” law. Enacted in 2018, the law limits the use of local resources to assist federal immigration enforcement.

“The information unveiled through this lawsuit shows that the freedoms that people think they possess in Marin County are a mirage: people cannot move about freely without being surveilled,” said Bennett. “Our county sheriff, who has sworn to uphold the law, is in fact violating it by sharing peoples’ private information with outside agencies. This has especially alarming implications for immigrants and people of color: two communities that are traditionally the targets of excessive policing, surveillance, and separation from loved ones and community through incarceration or deportation.”

The Marin County Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

California Black Caucus Gives Thumbs Up to Law Reforming Courtroom Sentencing

The new law marks a correction to a ruling that was only meant to last two years but ended up lasting 14.

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Protestors raising fists high above heads. Concept of protest, human rights, fighting.

Members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) are applauding a new law Gov. Newsom signed on October 8 that modifies the state court sentencing procedure for crimes.

Senate Bill (SB) 567 requires judges to only hand out sentences with lengths that match a number of years that reflect the median point of the possible term.

Moving forward, according to the new law, sentences will only exceed middle term after circumstances presented to a jury are proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We are now in a period of reckoning that requires us to confront the reality and interconnectedness of racism, inequality, and injustice which have permeated our institutions and deprive people of liberty, without the fundamental standards for fairness in our processes,” said Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), who is chair of the CLBC

The new law marks a correction to a ruling that was only meant to last two years but ended up lasting 14.

In 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held in Cunningham v. California ruled that California’s determinate sentencing law was unconstitutional. The court found that California law impermissibly allowed judges to impose an upper/maximum term based upon facts that were never presented to a jury and deemed to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. This was a violation of the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution right to a trial by jury, according to the SCOTUS.

Later that year, a temporary law was put into place allowing judges to impose any of the three sentencing terms as long as they stated a reason for giving them. The law allowed judges to apply a maximum sentence without granting defendants the opportunity to have a jury determine if the reasoning for the sentence was true or not. The law was supposed to last until 2009 when a review of the sentencing process could determine a long-term solution.

However, the mandate ended up lasting until Gov. Newsom signed the law a little over a week ago.

Bradford was a lead proponent of SB 567 as part of this year’s criminal justice reform efforts.

“SB 567 makes our criminal justice system more credible and is a step in the right direction for criminal justice reform. I am grateful to Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the bill and appreciate the support of my legislative colleagues who voted for the bill because, only together, can we create a system that gives the public more confidence,” he said.

The bill was also sponsored by California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice and supported by organizations such as Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, and San Francisco Public Defender.

“SB 567 is a huge step forward in the fight for true justice in the courtroom. The impact of long sentences on individuals and families should not be taken lightly or subjected to arbitrary terms. As a lawyer and someone who has been impacted by the loss of loved ones to incarceration, I find this bill a worthy step in the right direction,” said Joanna Billingy, policy manager for Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

SB 567 will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022.

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