California Lawyers Seek Criminal Justice Changes

California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), a statewide association of criminal defense attorneys in private practice and working in public defender offices, unveiled a package of legislative proposals to address ongoing racial bias in law enforcement and the judicial system. 

CACJ seeks to increase oversight of law enforcement practices and to establish stronger accountability when there are allegations of police abuse. The proposals also include a measure to prevent the exclusion of people of color from jury service. 

The signature proposal in CACJ’s package is the creation of an independent California Justice Commission that will be empowered to make criminal charging decisions in response to allegations of police abuse.

“Our criminal justice system is plagued with racial bias, from disproportionate traffic stops and arrests of people of color, to juries lacking diversity, and police abuse going unpunished,” according to Eric Schweitzer, CACJ president and an attorney in Fresno, Calif. CACJ’s proposed California Law Enforcement Accountability and Community Justice Act of 2020 is designed to address what the organization believes is racially-based flaws in our criminal justice system that result in the over incarceration of people of color. 

“When our cops and our courts get it wrong we end up with a system the community can’t trust and overrepresentation of people of color in jail, for too long and often for things they didn’t do,” added Allison Zuvela, CACJ vice president and chief deputy public defender of Yolo County in Northern California. 

The California Justice Commission would have the authority to investigate, bring charges, and prosecute cases involving police abuse in any jurisdiction in California. The Commission, through a delegation of authority from the California Attorney General’s office, will receive references of cases to investigate and an expedited time frame to make charging decisions. 

The organization also seeks expansion of Civilian Review Board authority. The organization wants all civilian review boards in California to have the authority to conduct investigations, subpoena witnesses and information, and bring administrative actions against individual law enforcement officers. 

For more information, go to https://cacj.org