Placer County DA’s Office warns residents on bill that ignores the will of the people regarding how the state charges in murder cases
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office warned residents of Senate Bill 300, a bill seeking to reduce penalties in murder cases and authorizing judges to dismiss special circumstance allegations found true by a jury. The bill, which passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Aug. 11 with a 12-4 vote, is now pending a vote on the Assembly Floor.
Special circumstance allegations are additional factors that are proven to a jury that demonstrate a murder was particularly heinous or calculated.
SB 300 gives judges the authority to reduce the punishment for a defendant by dismissing special circumstance findings found true at trial or admitted by the defendant.
Voters, through Proposition 115, known as the Crime Victims Justice Reform Act, rejected a judge’s unilateral authority to dismiss special circumstance allegations. This voter-enacted initiative prohibits a judge from striking or dismissing any special circumstance which is admitted by plea or found true by a jury or court.
Since this law directly undoes the will of the voters through a state proposition process, it needs two-thirds support from the Legislature.
Additionally, Prop. 115 authorized the filing of special circumstances against accomplices to 1st degree murders who jurors determined played a significant role in the murder and demonstrated a reckless indifference to human life during the murder of the victim.
Senate Bill 300 seeks to prohibit an accomplice in a special circumstance murder (e.g., murder because of race, during a sexual offense, with torture or kidnapping, etc.) who was not the actual killer from being charged, convicted, or sentenced for the crime of special circumstance murder, despite their major participation in the murder.
While the author provides some compelling examples as to why the bill is necessary in the interest of justice, the bill overlooks the fact that defendants are already able under current law to seek sentencing reconsiderations.
SB 300 creates a dangerous one-size-fits-all approach that not only circumvents due process, but provides a possibility for a lesser sentence for the worst offenders.
For example, multiple defendants who participate in binding or subduing victims or who participate in a sexual assault prior to the killing of a victim – cases in which it is difficult to distinguish the actual killer from the aider and abettor - would all benefit under SB 300 as none of the defendants would face the special circumstance allegation for their crime.
For these reasons, the bill has received opposition from the California District Attorneys Association, Crime Victims United, and families from across the state who have lost loved ones to violent crime.
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office remains committed to educating residents on policies and legislation that affect the public safety of our communities. Residents can sign this petition, share this information with their communities, write advocacy letters, and leave a comment to the bill author.