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Criminal Justice Reform in California: Five Bills That Could Dramatically Change the Golden State’s Criminal Law Landscape

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A Step in the Right Direction: A Summary of the FIRST STEP Act


The Formerly Incarcerated Reenter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act of 2018, or FIRST STEP Act, is the first criminal justice reform bill signed into law under the current administration. Long in the making, the Act brings substantial reform to federal sentencing. While this bipartisan bill is primarily focused on decreasing recidivism, which is defined as a return to "criminal behavior, re-arrest, and re-incarceration," through evidence-based programming, the Act also reduces mandatory sentencing for non-violent offenses, expands educational programming, and revises certain drug penalties. This article will provide a broad overview of the Act, as well as a brief discussion of a challenge to the Act’s good time credit provisions by federal inmate Vivek Shah.

The Act includes key provisions from the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 (“SRCA”). Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced the bill …

The Trial Penalty

Have you heard the phrase "prosecutors will decide"? It's often used by news stations when discussing a crime and its sentence. As John Oliver pointed out on one episode of his late night show, most people have heard this phrase before, but they have heard it so much that they forget what it means. Prosecutors have the power to decide whether and what to charge against someone. They also have the power to hold crucial evidence until the last minute. Because the evidence is withheld, the case will seem to be stacked against the charged. For this reason, many of the accused choose to plead guilty and try to plead for a lower sentence instead of risking receiving a life sentence in a trial.

You and Your Tracking Device (aka cell phone): U.S. Supreme Court Issues a Narrow Win for Privacy

Criminal Law Update: Summer 2018

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a monumental, long-awaited decision on privacy rights, Fourth Amendment, and digital data. In United States v. Carpenter, the Court ruled that to access an individual’s historical cell phone data, law enforcement needs a warrant supported by probable cause. This applies to the “396 million cell phone service account” in the U.S., as identified by the Court. To hear the figure is overwhelming - 396 million cell phone accounts for a nation of 326 million! The 5-4 split decision displayed the complexities of applying Fourth Amendment law to evolving and invasive technology which has become a natural part of American lives.
What is Historical Cell Phone Data?
Cell phones operate by connecting to a set of radio antennas called “cell sites” which are typically mounted on towers. These cell sites have directional antennas that divide the covered area into sectors (see figures below). The cell …

Election Update: Your Guide to California’s Criminal Justice Ballot Measures Fall 2016

The nation is abuzz with all things Donald and Hillary, and the anticipated outcome of the presidential election. However, there are other important issues at stake this November. State propositions that affect not only you, but also the criminal justice system – like sentencing, marijuana use, gun control, and the death penalty – are up for vote in a few weeks.
And with four ballot cards to get through by November 8th, this Quarterly Update is dedicated to identifying and simplifying the criminal-justice related measures on the ballot. Below is a rough, cliff-notes-like version of the Propositions and Measures certain to affect California’s criminal justice system. Your California vote is important and it is even more important that you know what you are voting for.
California Ballot Measures
Proposition 57: Sentencing and Juvenile Filings
Proposition 57 supports increasing parole and good behavior opportunities for those convicted of nonviolent crimes. This proposition would…