SACRAMENTO (AP) — California lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a pair of bills Friday designed to thwart or reverse wrongful criminal convictions.
They acted as the Legislature rushed to complete its work for the year ahead of Sunday’s deadline.
SB980 by Sen. Ted Lieu. D-Torrance, which passed the Senate on a 32-3 vote, changes the criteria for obtaining a court order authorizing DNA testing.
It would require law enforcement agencies to tell defendants when they possess evidence that could be tested for DNA. It also would allow judges to order DNA evidence to be run through the FBI’s nationwide database to look for a match.
Under the bill, defendants would not have to show that the DNA testing will prove they are innocent, and the judge would not have to decide first that the DNA evidence would be enough to get the defendant released from prison.
It also would double, to six months, the notice that law enforcement agencies must give before they destroy evidence, while doubling to one year the amount of time a defendant could request DNA testing.
Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, objected that the rules would make it too easy for defendants to seek a review of DNA evidence. “That is a huge leap we ought not make,” Nielsen said.
Lieu said he made amendments to the bill that removed much of the opposition from law enforcement. The measure was sought by the California Innocence Project and was supported by the California District Attorneys Association.
Lieu said there have been more than 300 people exonerated across the country since 1989 because of DNA testing. Opponents, he said, have “a fear of too much justice.”
The second bill, AB885 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would allow juries deliberating in certain criminal cases to consider prosecutors’ failure to disclose information that would have supported reasonable doubt.
It would apply to cases in which a judge has found that a prosecutor intentionally withheld evidence that was favorable to the defense.
The bill promotes judicial fairness, Ammiano said. It passed the Assembly on a 45-17 vote.
Lawmakers approved the bills as they rushed to meet a Sunday deadline for sending bills to the governor. Both houses expected to work past midnight and finish early Saturday morning.
Other legislation approved by lawmakers Friday includes:
— SB1150 by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, which would bar the state Department of Consumer Affairs from denying a law or other professional permit to someone based on the person’s immigration status. It passed the Assembly on a 49-19 vote and now goes to the governor.
— SB1138 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, requires labeling of fish or shellfish that is offered for sale at wholesale or retail to clearly identify the species of fish or shellfish by its common name. The bill passed the Assembly 57-15 and the Senate 25-10. It goes to the governor.
— AB380, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, which requires rail carriers to provide specific information to the state Office of Emergency Services about hazardous materials, including oil being transported from the Bakken shale, to allow emergency officials to plan for a disaster. Passed the Assembly 61-1 and heads to the governor.