Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced his opposition Monday to three bills he said would make it easier for dangerous criminals to be released and evade further monitoring.
Senate Bill 421 would alter the so-called Megan’s Law to a new “tiered system,” which would allow some sex offenders to stop having to register with law enforcement after 10 or 20 years depending on their crime, Rackauckas said.
SB 10 would change the way bail is set, making it more affordable for many suspects instead of being set in stone by law depending on the crime, Rackauckas said.
SB 620 would make state-mandated sentencing enhancements for gun violence more “suggestions” than requirements, Rackauckas said.
As the law stands, criminals who use a gun can get 10 years added for possession, 20 for firing it and 25 years to life for killing or seriously injuring someone, Rackauckas said.
The bill would change the 1997 “Use a Gun and You’re Done” legislation and give judges more discretion in applying the sentencing enhancements, Rackauckas said.
“In my experience as a judge and prosecutor, it’s been simple and effective,” Rackauckas said of the 1997 law. Rackauckas said taking away the state-mandated punishments for gun violence would make the fight against gangs tougher.
Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, who sponsored SB 620, said in May stricter punishments have not deterred crime, but did not want to eliminate the enhancements altogether.
“We must allow our courts to assess the specifics of each case individually,” Bradford said.
The bill “allows the court to have that discretion instead of putting it solely in the hands of a DA’s decision whether to include the enhancement,” according to Jacqueline Goodman, treasurer of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, which bills itself as the nation’s largest statewide organization of criminal defense lawyers and allied professionals.
The way the system is now some defendants plead guilty rather than take a gamble on a decades-long or life sentences, Goodman said.
The legislation on bail would junk guidelines based on the offense and make it easier for suspects to get free before trial, Rackauckas said.
In some cases, bail could be made before a prosecutor sees police reports or has time to file charges, Rackauckas said.
Rackauckas also argued that it would eliminate the bail bond system altogether, taking away the incentive of a bail bonds worker from hunting down fugitives and dragging them to court because they would not otherwise lose the bond posted.
“The whole concept of a bail bondsman is out the window,” Rackauckas said.
Anyone who jumps bail might see a collection agency go after the 90 percent that’s unpaid, but that would be just about it, Rackauckas said.
An arrest warrant would be issued, but it would be thrown on a large stack of others, with law enforcement not having the resources to go after fugitives, Rackauckas said.
Goodman said the bill seeks to make the bail system more fair for defendants of lesser means.
“Currently, those people with means can get out on bail because they can pay an extraordinary amount of money to do that and those of average or lesser means languish in jails on accusations and nothing more,” she said.
There are provisions in the bill to guard against release of someone deemed dangerous or a flight risk, Goodman said.
Rackauckas cited multiple examples of dangerous sex offenders who could be taken off the Megan’s Law database.
The mother of Samantha Runnion, an Orange County tot who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered within days of her 6th birthday, joined Rackauckas at a news conference to oppose the legislation.
Erin Runnion claimed that even law enforcement wouldn’t have access to the rap sheet of some sex offenders under the proposed legislation.
Runnion also argued that the law would prompt up to 45,000 convicted sex offenders to challenge their status and seek to have their names taken off the Megan’s Law database, which would overwhelm the bureaucracy.
Runnion said some sex offenders convicted before 1987 would be wiped off the database altogether.
“It’s outrageous,” she said, adding that although the victims of sex offenders cannot escape what has been done to them, “they can at least know this person is being tracked.”
The legislation would “cost this state tens of millions of dollars,” Runnion said.
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice is a sponsor of the bill to reform the sex-offender registration system, Goodman said.
“The tiered system is supported by many law enforcement agencies and police departments across the state and the vast majority of criminal justice scholars,” Goodman said.
“California is one of only four states left across the country with an across-the-board lifetime registration.”
There are so many people registered as sex offenders that it is no longer a useful tool for law enforcement, Goodman said.
“That’s why law enforcement is so supportive of this,” she said. “The tool for law enforcement for tracking sex offenders is no longer effective when it’s overly broad.”
A misdemeanor sex offender such as a groper would have to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years, and would then petition for removal through a court process, Goodman said.
The way it stands now, misdemeanor offenders carry the stigma for as long as sexually violent predators such as rapists, she added.
The legislation would provide an incentive for defendants to reform, Goodman said.
Broadcom co-founder Henry T. Nicholas III, the chief sponsor of Marsy’s Law, which allowed victims of crimes more say in the judicial process, said he would challenge the constitutionality of some of the bills if they are approved.
The bail and sex-offender registration bills are “disastrous pieces of legislation” that would violate certain rights under Marsy’s Law, Nicholas said.
Updated July 10, 2017 at 9:29 p.m.
–City News Service