Release Date: July 18, 2022
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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LA Judge to Hear Challenges to Gascón Revoking Death Sentences on June 19

District Attorney George Gascón’s effort to reduce the death sentences of every condemned Los Angeles County murderer faces a hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday. On February 15, Gascón moved to recall the death sentence of a convicted murderer. A brief submitted by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF) and the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) argued that the section of the law invoked in that motion did not give trial courts the jurisdiction to reduce a murderer’s death sentence to life without parole (LWOP). But late last month the Legislature gutted AB 200, a “spot” budget trailer bill, and turned it into a wide-ranging law with provisions having very little to do with the budget. One of those was an amendment to the sentence recall law, allowing judges to reconsider death sentences. AB 200 was signed by Governor Newsom on June 30. Budget trailer bills are measures “related to the budget bill” which are passed in conjunction with the budget to make changes needed to implement the budget.

Without the June 30 amendment, the sentence recall law did not authorize a trial court to reduce a death sentence, even at the request of a district attorney. Since 1977, that authority has been included in a portion of the Penal Code enacted as part of the Determinate Sentencing Law which expressly does not apply to capital cases or life sentences.

Since Gascón took office in 2020, his office has been partnering with defense attorneys representing murderers to seek judicial orders to reduce death sentences to LWOP.

On Tuesday, a Los Angeles County judge will hear the case of People v. Collins, to consider Gascón’s request to recall the death sentence of Scott Forest Collins, who was sentenced to death for the 1996 robbery and murder of Fred Rose in North Hollywood. Rose’s wife and two daughters, represented by former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley and former deputy district attorney Kathleen Cady, have submitted an objection in the case, noting that the Determinate Sentencing Law did not authorize judges to hear requests to reduce death sentences.

On July 11, Gascón’s office filed a new motion, invoking the version of the law enacted by AB 200.

A second amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief from CJLF and CDAA, submitted on July 15, addresses the use of a spot bill to hold a place for a budget trailer bill which is filled in only after the budget has been passed by the Legislature. The brief argues that under the California Constitution, Article IV, Section 12, subdivision (e), AB 200 does not qualify as a budget trailer bill, and because of this, the amendment it creates cannot take effect until January 1, 2023, under the requirements of the California Constitution.

On February 18, 2021, the entire content of AB 200 read: “It is the intent of the Legislature to enact statutory changes, relating to the Budget Act of 2021.” On June 15, the day the Budget Act of 2022 (SB 154) was passed and sent to the Governor, AB 200 had not been changed. It remained identified among bills “providing for appropriations related to the Budget Bill within the meaning of subdivision (e) of Section 12 of Article IV of the California Constitution.” The bill was gutted and amended on June 26, with a new title: “Public safety omnibus.” It was passed by the Budget Committee, along with 28 other trailer bills and with no advance notice, the next day. The committee report and floor analyses in both houses described the changes as merely “technical” with no hint that they authorized changing murderers’ sentences. On June 29, AB 200 was passed by both houses of the Legislature and sent to the Governor.

As a matter of law, a trailer bill must be related to the Budget Bill. The Constitution requires the Legislature to identify a trailer bill “in the budget bill passed by the Legislature.” While neither of these requirements were met with AB 200, the brief focuses on the second one. The CJLF/CDAA brief asks the court to recognize that such a complete replacement of the content identified in the budget bill renders the gutted bill unidentified for the purposes of the Constitution, leaving AB 200’s immediate effect clause unconstitutional.

“This shameless attempt to sneak a major change in criminal law past the public is a stab in the back to the families of murder victims. The actions of the legislative leadership on this bill are a travesty of democracy and a disgrace to this state,” said CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger.

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345