2020
Criminal Law
Key Statutory Developments

Probation Length Maximums: AB1950

On September 30, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB1950, reducing the length of probation in criminal cases (Pen. Code §§ 1203a and 1203.1) to a maximum of 1 year for misdemeanors and 2 years for felonies, with certain exceptions. The new law is intended to reduce California’s adult supervised population, which stood at 548,000 as of May, 2020, notably the highest of any state in the nation and more than twice the size of the state’s prison population. This goal is bolstered by research by the California Budget and Policy Center, which shows that probation services are most effective during the first 18 months of probation supervision.

The previous law had allowed courts to assign misdemeanor probation for up to three years, and longer in cases where the maximum sentence imposed by law exceeds three years. For felonies, the law had allowed courts to assign probation for a period of time not exceeding the maximum term for which the person could be imprisoned, or five years if not specified. In many courts, the maximum length of probation often became the default. The new probation caps do come with sizable exceptions.

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California Criminal Law Procedure and Practice

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Key Developments in Criminal Law
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A Sea Change for Batson-Wheeler: AB 3070

Under the Batson-Wheeler rule, peremptory challenges may not be used to systematically exclude jurors based on membership in a group distinguished by racial, religious, ethnic, or similar characteristics. A key criticism of the procedure has been that many commonly proffered race-neutral reasons were in fact reasons disproportionately associated with those protected groups, with the same result as if race had been the stated reason. In addition, the high bar of establishing purposeful discrimination has made it extraordinarily difficult to prevail on a Batson-Wheeler challenge.

Effective for all criminal trials where jury selection begins on or after Jan. 1, 2022, AB 3070 declares that requiring proof of intentional bias renders the procedure ineffective and that many of the reasons routinely advanced to justify the exclusion of jurors from protected groups are in fact associated with stereotypes about those groups or otherwise based on unlawful discrimination. AB 3070 lowers the burden from purposeful discrimination to a “substantial likelihood” determination that an “objectively reasonable person would view [the protected group] as a factor in the use of the peremptory challenge”. The objectively reasonable person standard includes an awareness of unconscious bias, both implicit and institutional. (Code Civ. Proc., §§ 231.7(d)(2)(A)-(C).)

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‘Coercive Control’ Bill Expands Protection Against Domestic Violence: SB 1141

On Sept. 29, 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 1141, expanding the definition of domestic violence under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (Fam. Code, §§ 6200-6409) and making California the first state to define “coercive control” in the law.

The new legislation amends Family Code section 6320, clarifying that “disturbing the peace of the other party,” a basis for obtaining a domestic violence restraining order under section 6320(a), includes coercive control. In doing so, the legislature has recognized something that domestic violence experts and victims have long known — that this subtle, insidious, and often-overlooked phenomenon is a devastating and pervasive form of abuse. New language in section 6320 defines coercive control as “a pattern of behavior that in purpose or effect unreasonably interferes with a person’s free will and personal liberty.”

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‘Coercive Control’ Bill Expands Protection for California Domestic Violence Victims
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California Judges Benchbook: Domestic Violence Cases in Criminal Court 2020

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Key Developments in Family Law 2020
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