BILL ANALYSIS Ó SENATE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY Senator Loni Hancock, Chair A 2011-2012 Regular Session B 8 8 6 AB 886 (Cook) As Introduced February 17, 2011 Hearing date: June 14, 2011 Penal Code MK:mc VICTIM'S RIGHTS: VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT HISTORY Source: More Kids Prior Legislation: None Support: California State Sheriffs' Association; Crime Victims United of California; California Catholic Conference, Inc.; California Peace Officers' Association; California Narcotic Officers' Association; California Police Chiefs Association Opposition:None known Assembly Floor Vote: Ayes 73 - Noes 0 KEY ISSUE SHOULD THE LAW PROHIBIT A COURT FROM RELEASING STATEMENTS FROM A CRIME VICTIM TO THE PUBLIC PRIOR TO THE STATEMENT BEING HEARD IN (More) AB 886 (Cook) Page 2 COURT? PURPOSE The purpose of this bill is to prohibit a court from releasing statements from a crime victim to the public prior to the statement being heard in court. Existing law provides that it is the right of a crime victim, as specified, to be notified of all sentencing proceedings, and of the right to appear, to reasonably express his or her views, have those views preserved by audio or video means, as specified, and to have the court consider his or her statements, as specified. (Penal Code § 679.02(a)(3).) Existing law states that it is the right of a crime victim, as specified, to be notified of all juvenile disposition hearings in which the alleged act would have been a felony if committed by an adult, and of the right to attend and to express his or her views, as specified. (Penal Code § 679.02(a)(4).) Existing law declares that a victim of any crime, as specified, has the right to attend all sentencing proceedings under this chapter and shall be given adequate notice by the probation officer of all sentencing proceedings concerning the person who committed the crime. Existing law further provides that the victim, as specified, has the right to appear, personally or by counsel, at the sentencing proceeding and to reasonably express his, her, or their views concerning the crime, the person responsible and the need for restitution and states that the court in imposing sentence shall consider the statements of victims, parents or guardians, and next of kin made pursuant to this section and shall state on the record its conclusion concerning whether the person would pose a threat to public safety, if granted probation. (Penal Code § 1191.1.) This bill prohibits the court from releasing victim or witness statements prior to the statements being heard in court. (More) AB 886 (Cook) Page 3 RECEIVERSHIP/OVERCROWDING CRISIS AGGRAVATION For the last several years, severe overcrowding in California's prisons has been the focus of evolving and expensive litigation. As these cases have progressed, prison conditions have continued to be assailed, and the scrutiny of the federal courts over California's prisons has intensified. On June 30, 2005, in a class action lawsuit filed four years earlier, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California established a Receivership to take control of the delivery of medical services to all California state prisoners confined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). In December of 2006, plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits against CDCR sought a court-ordered limit on the prison population pursuant to the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act. On January 12, 2010, a three-judge federal panel issued an order requiring California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of design capacity -- a reduction at that time of roughly 40,000 inmates -- within two years. The court stayed implementation of its ruling pending the state's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision of the three-judge panel in its entirety, giving California two years from the date of its ruling to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity, subject to the right of the state to seek modifications in appropriate circumstances.
In response to the unresolved prison capacity crisis, in early 2007 the Senate Committee on Public Safety began holding legislative proposals which could further exacerbate prison overcrowding through new or expanded felony prosecutions. (More) This bill does not appear to aggravate the prison overcrowding crisis described above. COMMENTS 1. Need for This Bill According to the author: Under current California law, a victim must submit a victim impact statement in writing to the court before sentencing. This allows the court to review the statement to ensure that it complies with state law. It also allows defendants the chance to review the statement in accordance with their right to refute materials used against them at trial. When the victim impact statement is submitted in writing to the court, it becomes a public document. This means that the media is able to request and gain access to it. This has led to situations where the victim impact statement ends up being published in the newspaper before the victim has the opportunity to read it in court. This can diminish the power of the statement when read in court, which undermines the rights of the victim. This bill would change the California Public Records Law to prevent the release of a victim impact statement to the public before it is read in court. This change would prevent the release of victim impact statements to the public before they are read in court, while still guaranteeing the court's right to review the statement in advance. This will not infringe upon the defendant's right to have access to materials used against them in court. 2. Victim Impact Statements at Sentencing (More) AB 886 (Cook) Page 5 A sentencing court may consider "the testimony of witnesses examined in open court" (Penal Code § 1204) and any facts supplied by the trial record. The victim of the crime, the parents or guardians of the victim if the victim is a minor, or the next of kin of the victim if the victim has died have the right to be notified of the sentencing hearing and to appear and be heard concerning the crime, the defendant and the need for restitution. (Penal Code § 1191.1.) The court must consider these statements when imposing sentence. (Penal Code § 1191.1.) Statements can be made in writing or on a recording medium accepted by the court. Victims who give statements at sentencing do not need to take an oath, are not subject to cross-examination and are permitted to relate hearsay information. (People v. Birmingham (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 180, 184.) When the victim submits a letter to the court, instead of testifying, due process requires that the defendant be permitted to read the letter in advance and respond to that letter at the sentencing hearing. (People v. Mockel (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 581, 587; See generally Penal Code §§ 1191.1 to 1191.3; See also Penal Code § 1204 (testimony in aggravation or mitigation must usually be in person).) 3. Prohibits Early Release of the Victim Statement This bill would prohibit the release of the victim impact statement prior to the statement being heard in court. It does not change the release of such written statement to the defendant. ***************