Oct. 2, 2017: BAY VIEW - NATIONAL BLACK NEWSPAPER - California Legislature approves juvenile justice bills to update Miranda rights, allow parole for youthful offenders

October 02, 2017

Sacramento – Just weeks after the artist and musician Common held a free concert outside the State Capitol for 25,000 people and met with legislators to push for common sense justice reform, the California Legislature approved two long-overdue juvenile justice bills.

California state Sens. Ricardo Lara and Holly Mitchell discuss their proposed juvenile justice legislation Monday, March 20, 2017, at Leataata Floyd Elementary School in Sacramento. California should start treating juvenile offenders more like children, reflecting research showing that children’s brains are different from adults. – Photo: Don Thompson, AP

Senate Bills 394 and 395 are part of the #EquityAndJustice package of bills jointly authored by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, to promote prevention and rehabilitation and maintain family cohesion.

A video with Common posted on Sen. Lara’s Facebook page has received more than 35,000 views. In the video, Common tells a group of formerly incarcerated youth and advocates in Sen. Lara’s office, “We care about those that are incarcerated, and we care about our young people that we don’t want to end up being put in prison.”

“Hearing the stories of young people who confessed to crimes they didn’t commit is heartbreaking and should be a wake-up call for our whole justice system,” said Sen. Lara. “Senate Bill 395 protects children and families from the tragedy of false confession and brings our 50-year-old Miranda rights into the 21st century. Young people can take responsibility for their actions and having legal counsel will ensure they understand their rights and uphold our constitutional values in the process.”

“We need to update our laws for young people in custodial interrogations as well as for those who have committed crimes,” said Sen. Mitchell. “California’s laws are still stuck in the past when our courts routinely sentenced young people to life without parole and routinely took away all hope of redemption. We know better now, and these bills are part of our movement toward equity and justice.”

Senate Bill 394 allows young people sentenced to life without parole to have a parole hearing after 25 years, complying with a recent U.S. Supreme Court case.

Senate Bill 395 will require young people age 15 and younger to consult with legal counsel before waiving their Miranda rights in a police interrogation. It passed the Senate in May with bipartisan support.

Research shows that young people are much more likely to confess to crimes they didn’t commit, and they are less likely to understand their constitutional rights than adults.

Jerome Dixon is one of those young people. He was arrested at age 17 and interrogated for 25 hours. “On the 25th hour I was nothing more than an empty shell of a child, and I caved in and told them what they wanted to hear,” he told KQED radio. He was recently released after 21 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Senate Bill 395 is co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Silicon Valley De-Bug, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and the National Center for Youth Law and has support from the California State PTA, Compton Unified School District, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and nearly 30 civil rights and juvenile justice organizations. The bills await Gov. Brown’s signature.