The death penalty and life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are punishments so extreme they are virtually unheard of in much of the world. California not only regularly imposes these sentences but currently requires judges to impose them for an adult convicted of “murder with special circumstances,” even if the person did not kill anyone nor intend anyone to die. Under current CA law, if a person dies during certain felonies, even if the death is accidental, anyone involved in the felony is subject to the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole, even though the death was not caused by their individual action or intent.
Decades of research have failed to show any public safety benefit from LWOP or the death penalty. On the contrary, severe punishments like these have driven the mass incarceration crisis that has destroyed lives, families, and entire communities. Reducing our reliance on punishment and imprisonment, including for people serving extreme sentences, will benefit our communities by returning people to their families and freeing up funds that can be invested in addressing true community safety and well-being.
SB 300 will take a modest step to ensure these sentences will not be imposed upon people who did not cause or intend to cause death during the commission of a felony. It will also restore a judge’s ability to impose a sentence of 25 years to life if they determine that an opportunity to earn parole would best serve the interest of justice.
AB 2159 will amend California’s Welfare Code to clearly state that parents who are incarcerated pre-trial shall not be bypassed from receiving reunification services solely for the reason of being incarcerated.
Currently, courts have interpreted the Child Welfare Code such that parents who are incarcerated can be denied the opportunity to participate in family reunification services even before any trial or conviction. In some instances, they may even choose to move towards a permanent plan of legal guardianship or adoption without offering reunification services. Many of these parents will have their charges dismissed only to find that they have lost the right to parent their children permanently.
Bypass is a tool used to exclude parents from utilizing family reunification services. These provisions were enacted because of the understanding that providing a parent with reunification services would be fruitless. Appellate courts apply this bypass provision to incarcerated parents who have not been convicted. The outcome of this interpretation is that a parent who can afford bail will be provided an opportunity to reunify with their children, whereas a parent who cannot afford bail may be bypassed.
AB 2159 will clearly state that parents who are incarcerated pre-trial shall not be bypassed from receiving family reunification services solely for the reason of being incarcerated. These parents shall instead be offered the same rights to attempt to reunify with their children as parents who are able to afford bail.
The Death Penalty
“Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.
“Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.
“Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, [Francis, Address to Participants in the Meeting organized by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, 11 October 2017] and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”
-Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2267