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Changes to California’s Criminal Justice System Come Next Year

Prosecutors will no longer be able to use rap lyrics as evidence; it will not be a crime to loiter for the purpose of sex work; courts will be barred from disclosing someone’s immigration status; and inmates will be allowed to make free phone calls.

Motor traffic streams past a liquor store on Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles in April 2020
In April 2020, motor traffic streams past a liquor store on Figueroa Street in South Los Angeles, within an area known for prostitution. A 2023 state law decriminalizes loitering for the purposes of prostitution.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
(TNS) — The new year will be bring several changes to how criminal justice is applied in California.

Prosecutors will no longer be able to use rap lyrics as evidence, defense attorneys will be barred from disclosing a person’s immigration status in open court, and the crime of loitering for the purpose of prostitution will come off the books.

Here’s a quick rundown:

Prosecutors Can No Longer Use Rap Lyrics as Evidence

Starting in the new year, courts will no longer be able to use a person’s creative expressions, such as rap lyrics, against them in most criminal proceedings.

Assembly Bill 2799, by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D- Los Angeles, prevents prosecutors from using creative expressions as character evidence against a defendant unless they can be tied to a specific crime or provides information otherwise not available to the public.

“California has long held that the use of creative expression as evidence at trial should only happen in very specific circumstances given the opportunity for bias against a defendant. Unfortunately, there are still cases where creative expressions are used in trial in a manner that incites explicit or implicit bias,” Jones-Sawyer said in a statement of support for the bill.

It Is No Longer a Crime to Loiter for the Purpose of Sex Work

One of 2022’s most controversial bills, Senate Bill 357, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D- San Francisco, actually was passed by the California Legislature in 2021 but was held, at Wiener’s request, for nearly a year so that the coalition behind the bill could build support for the governor’s signature.

The bill decriminalizes loitering for the purposes of prostitution.

Wiener argued that existing law allowed police to “to target and arrest people if they are wearing tight clothes or a lot of make-up.”

Frequently, those targeted by the existing law are transgender women of color, Wiener added.

The bill met stiff opposition from Republicans, moderate Democrats and anti-human trafficking advocates, who argued that it would hinder law enforcement efforts to combat sex trafficking.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, in signing the bill into law last summer, warned that the state “must be cautious about its implementation.”

“My administration will monitor crime and prosecution trends for any possible unintended consequences and will act to mitigate any such impacts,” Newsom said in his signing statement.

Courts Are Now Barred From Disclosing Someone’s Immigration Status

Courts are now prohibited from disclosing a person’s immigration status in open court, unless the presiding judge determines that the matter is admissible in a hearing held in chambers.

Senate Bill 836, by Sen. Wiener, reenacts provisions that were repealed on Jan. 1, 2022.

In a statement of support for the bill, Wiener said that it was to prevent instances such as defense attorneys “exposing the immigration status of witnesses and victims of crimes in California courthouses.”

“In addition, there were reports of immigration agents throughout the country monitoring and detaining individuals at courthouses,” Wiener said.

SB 836 passed with an urgency clause, meaning it became law as soon as Gov. Newsom signed it in August.

Inmates Can Make Free Phone Calls

Beginning January, state prisons, youth detention facilities and city and county jails will be required to offer phone services to inmates free of charge.

Senate Bill 1008, by Sen. Josh Becker, D- San Mateo, prohibits government agencies from profiting on the provision of communication services to inmates.

Prior to SB 1008 becoming law, the rate for in- and out-of-state phone calls was $0.025 a minute, video calls was $0.20 per minute and sending or receiving emails is $0.05 per message. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also provided 15 minutes of free phone calls and 15 minutes of free video calls every two weeks to all inmates.

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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