New California Bill Would Allow Race To Be Factor In Sentencing

A proposed California law would enable judges to consider race as a factor in sentencing criminals as part of a wider equity push in the state. The Golden State is also considering the recommendations of a reparations panel, which partially inspired the bill.

Assembly Bill 852 passed the California State Assembly in May. The bill passed by a large margin of 58-13. It is currently being discussed in Senate committees prior to a possible floor vote.

The proposal, sponsored by State Rep. Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D), is also linked to the reparations effort recommended by a panel appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

The bill states that currently, defendants are subjected to a “conviction or sentence” due to racial or ethnic terms if the “defendant was charged or convicted of a more serious offense than defendants of other races, ethnicities or national origins.” 

The bill also argues that prosecutors “more frequently sought or obtained convictions for more serious offenses against people who share the defendant’s” race or ethnic background. In particular, the proposed legislation argues that a “longer or more severe sentence was more frequently imposed on defendants of a particular race.” 

Should the bill pass the legislature and be signed by Newsom, courts would “consider the disparate impact on historically disenfranchised and system-impacted populations” whenever “they have discretion to determine a sentence.”

The bill does not specify what precise efforts to “rectify racial bias” would include.

Last month, the California Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans delivered its report to the state legislature.

Within in the report, the panel’s calculations of disparities for Black Californians total about $1.4 million per resident. 

The report does not set this figure as an exact amount for reparations, but instead describes the estimate as “an economically conservative initial assessment of what losses, at a minimum, the State of California caused or could have prevented, but did not.”

The panel also calls on the state to formally apologize for the “perpetration of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity against African enslaved people and their descendants.”

A similar discussion regarding reparations is also occurring in San Francisco. 

Since its admission to the United States, California was never a slave state.