Guv, what's up with the weird decisions on criminal justice bills?
Guv, what’s up with the weird decisions on criminal justice bills?

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014 — Governor Brown has a strange thing with criminal justice. They guy was a Jesuit (you know, forgiveness and redemption and all that) but he’s been fighting to keep the feds from making him release even prisoners who don’t belong behind bars. He’s not personally a fan of the death penalty but he’s trying to find better ways to kill people.

He signed a bill by Senator Mark Leno, SB 1058, that would allow a judge to overturn a conviction if key evidence at the trial turned out later to be scientifically inaccurate. That means if some expert witness depended on a type of forensic test that has since be disproven (or has been replaced by more accurate testing), and an innocent person has been behind bars, a judge can consider that in ordering a new trial.

And yet, just days later, he vetoed a bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano that would allow a judge to tell a jury that the prosecution had improperly withheld evidence in the case.

“A court may instruct the jury that the intentional or knowing failure to disclose the materials and information occurred and that the jury shall consider the intentional or knowing failure to disclose in determining whether reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt exists,” the bill states.

That’s it – nothing complicated, nothing radical, just one new sentence in the criminal code. Everyone knows that the prosecution is supposed to turn over to the defense any evidence that might show the innocence of the person on trial – but a lot of times, that doesn’t happen. And then you get bad outcomes.

So why did the guv veto the Ammiano bill? Here’s his statement. Can you make any sense of it? This would be a departure from allowing “the judiciary to decide how juries should be instructed?” Uh, no – all the law would do is give a judge more discretion; the law says “may” instruct the jury.

Ammiano’s response:

I’m beyond disappointed at the Governor’s veto of this bill. This was really a simple, modest bill to start balancing the justice system. When prosecutors are honorable, there’s no problem, but we’ve seen too many cases where DA’s don’t play fair – hiding evidence or releasing it at the last minute. People – mostly men of color – are spending decades in prison because of withheld evidence. We need more dramatic reform to hold the few rogue prosecutors accountable. Keeping the innocent out of prison is far more important than legislation letting dogs onto restaurant patios, but the Governor doesn’t seem to see it that way.



What happens when all the new arrivals to San Francisco start to vote? Does that change the politics of the city? Is there a way for progressives to find common cause with tech workers?

Those are fundamental questions for local politics – and you can hear a discussion of them at an Urban IDEA forum – cosponsored by 48 hills – tomorrow (Wednesday) at 5:30 pm at the LGBT Center.

Here’s the summary:

Join us Wednesday at UrbanIDEA as we tackle the BIG QUESTIONS of San Francisco (it’s free!): How is gentrification impacting the SF electorate?  Is the tech industry a monolithic enemy in this housing crisis?  What are the possibilities for alignment between existing residents and new arrivals as they both struggle to afford living in SF?  With the changing demographics, what are the opportunities for organizing across old political lines, and what are some of the values and policies around which we can build these alliances? And, what would it take for working class residents of color to play a leadership role in a broader multi-class, multi-racial alliance?

See you there.