AB 256 would allow those with prior, racially biased convictions to seek justice
SACRAMENTO–Today, AB 256, the Racial Justice Act for All, passed its final hurdle in the Legislature and will be sent to Governor Newsom. AB 256 is a follow-up measure to the original Racial Justice Act, AB 2542 (Kalra, Chapter 317, Statutes of 2020), which prohibits the state from seeking or obtaining a criminal conviction, or from imposing a sentence, based upon race, ethnicity, or national origin. In a phased-in approach, AB 256 would allow persons with convictions or judgements prior to January 1, 2021 to petition the court and seek relief if a racial bias violation was proven to be present in their case.
“When we passed the Racial Justice Act, we did so with a promise to not leave behind those with past criminal convictions and sentences that were tainted by institutionalized and implicit racial bias in our courts. For those incarcerated because of unjust racial bias, AB 256 will extend the possible remedies to cure the harm and seek justice,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “While the legislative process is never perfect, AB 256 is a significant step forward and could not be achieved without the tireless work of our coalition and the stories of those harmed by our criminal justice system.”
Prior to the Racial Justice Act, proving racial bias was nearly impossible because of the 30-year legal precedent set by McCleskey v Kemp. With this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court required California defendants in criminal cases to prove intentional discrimination when challenging racial bias in their case. The landmark Racial Justice Act finally began to address this issue, but unfortunately the bill was narrowed to prospective cases, excluding those who had already been harmed by the racial bias and discrimination that permeates our criminal legal system.
If AB 256 is signed in law, those with past judgements, sentences and convictions prior to January 1, 2021 can petition the court for retroactive relief based on the following phased-in timeline:
- January 1, 2023 = individuals facing deportation or sentenced to death
- January 1, 2024 = individuals incarcerated for a felony
- January 1, 2025 = others with a felony conviction entered after 2015
- January 1, 2026 = all others with a felony conviction
“The Legislature's passing of the Racial Justice Act for All affirms our state’s core values of embracing inclusivity and rejecting the racism that divides us. Though bruised by amendments, the RJA for All expands our civil rights protections to imprisoned Californians, among others, so that everyone can challenge the systemic bias and racism our highest institutions have inherited. Today, California shows that we will leave no one behind on our path to healing,” said Derick Morgan, Senior Policy Associate with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
“AB 256 reaffirms that racism requires redress. No one should be on death row, deported, or in prison because of racism in our courts,” said Natasha Minsker, Policy Advisor for Smart Justice California.
“The League of Women Voters of California believes that racial discrimination is an evil that must be confronted in every sphere – in voting access, in housing, in education, in employment, and now, at long last, in California’s criminal legal system,” said Executive Director, Stephanie Doute. “Fairness demands that the protections of the Racial Justice Act extend to all Californians, and with the passage of this bill, they finally will.”
“AB 256 represents a critical step forward in the fight against racial bias and discrimination in our criminal legal system,” said Mica Doctoroff, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “We hope that AB 256 will help to provide justice to incarcerated Black, Brown, and Indigenous people who have borne the deep, harmful impacts of racism.”
"Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities have been plagued by racist policies and overrepresented in our prisons and courts for far too long. For those incarcerated due to racial bias, the Racial Justice Act for All provides a path forward to fight the systemic racism that has contaminated our legal system,” said Fatimeh Khan, California Healing Justice Program Co-Director of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).
AB 256 is joint-authored by Assemblymembers Robert Rivas (D-Hollister), Santiago (D-Los Angeles), and Senator Kamlager (D-Los Angeles); principally co-authored by Assemblymember McCarty (D-Sacramento) and Senators Bradford (D-Gardena), and Lena Gonzalez (D- Long Beach); and co-authored by Assemblymembers Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), Bryan (D-Baldwin Hills), Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Friedman (D-Glendale), Haney (D-San Francisco), Lee (D-San Jose), Levine(D-Marin County), McKinnor (D-Inglewood), Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Ting (D-San Francisco), and Senators Durazo (D-Los Angeles), Laird (D-Santa Cruz), Skinner (D-Berkeley), and Wiener (D-San Francisco).
AB 256 is sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), California Coalition for Women Prisoners, Californians United for a Responsible Budget, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Initiate Justice, the League of Women Voters of California, NextGen California, and Silicon Valley De-Bug.
Assemblymember Ash Kalra was first elected to the California Legislature in 2016, representing the 27th District, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown. In 2020, he was re-elected to his third term. Assemblymember Kalra is the Chair of the State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and currently serves as a member on the Housing and Community Development, Judiciary, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife committees.