As we as a society evolve, we hope that our laws evolve as well. Enacted as of January 1, 2022, California passed a law which helps to offer a little leniency in sentencing for defendants who suffered certain traumas.
Our law has long allowed for defendants to enter into a plea bargain, accepting responsibility for their criminal conduct, and in exchange, the prosecutor or judge will make certain promises, commitments, concessions, assurances, or give the case certain considerations. That said, previously, working within California’s relatively rigid sentencing scheme, judges often lacked the discretion to impose a sentence which adequately addressed these underlying factors where vulnerable populations were involved. AB 124 aimed to address this problem. Following the passage of AB 124, the legislature has directed that the court must now impose the low term prison sentence when the defense submits acceptable proof (1) of childhood trauma, (2) they were a victim of human trafficking, or (3) they were a victim of domestic violence, unless there are circumstances in aggravation which outweigh this evidence in the particular case.
The reason for the change is that the legislature specifically recognized “survivors of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and other severe forms of trauma are more likely to be incarcerated. In fact, according to the ACLU, nearly 60% of female state prisoners nationwide and more than 90% of certain female prison populations experienced physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated. Yet, California's legal system currently lacks any consideration for the relevant experiences of survivors in the sentencing or resentencing process,” and writes “AB 124 would provide a path for courts to consider the full context of the trauma that contributed to a survivor's actions or inactions. It would create a trauma-informed response to sentencing that provides just outcomes for survivors. Currently, the societal trauma caused by criminalizing these individuals spans generations and perpetuates cycles of abuse and trauma. … AB 124 ensures that survivors of sexual violence are able to receive justice through our legal system."
According to the National Center for Youth Law: "According to the ACLU, nearly 60% of female state prisoners nationwide and as many as 94% of certain female prison populations have a history of physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated” and according to the Public Policy Institute of California, “Black women make up 25% of the incarcerated population in California, which when considered alongside the reality that Black women are only 5% of the adult population yet are incarcerated at five times the rate of white women, demonstrates a deplorable overrepresentation of Black women in prison.”
The State’s decision to enact this law also considered that "despite the body of research showing that the effect of trauma and abuse drives girls into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, the system itself typically overlooks the context of abuse when determining whether to arrest or charge a girl. Many trafficking survivors are incarcerated for crimes committed to protect themselves from further violence. Numerous studies show that survivors of coerced into participating in illegal activities by their abusive partners.” Further, it’s widely known many victims of domestic violence of human trafficking are reluctant to report the abuse as they distrust the systems, are worried about how their attacker will respond to a report, or believe that they aren’t actually victims at all, and that they deserved what happened to them.
…So while there are a lot of reasons to be frustrated with the state of our criminal justice system, it appears we should have hope that we are moving in the right direction.
If you’d like to talk to Devina about your criminal case, feel free to reach out.
 Survived and Punished, "Research Across the Walls: A Guide to Participatory Research Projects and Partnerships to Free Criminalized Survivors").
 See Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States: A Guide for the Health Care Sector.
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