Justice for Survivors (2021)
AB 124 (Kamlager)
AB 124 aims to support survivors of violence, including domestic violence and human trafficking, by providing trauma-informed charging, sentencing, and resentencing relief and trial advocacy considerations.
California’s current legal framework lacks clear legal mechanisms to ensure judges are provided information regarding an individual’s victimization, exploitation, trauma, and abuse at the time of charging, sentencing, and re-sentencing for survivors.
In 2013, at the age of 17, Keiana Aldrich was prosecuted as an adult and sentenced to nearly 10 years in state prison for assisting in the robbery of a grown man who was attempting to buy her for sex acts and the creation of pornography. By that point, she had already been commercially sexually exploited for several years and was merely trying to survive on the streets after running from an abusive homelife. Keiana joined a disproportionate number of Black women and girls who are sexually abused, exploited, and then criminalized. She spent her 18th through 25th birthdays behind bars, while the underlying trauma she endured as a survivor remained unaddressed.
Unfortunately, Keiana’s story is not unique–the injustice she experienced is pervasive. According to the ACLU, nearly 60% of female state prisoners nation-wide and as many as 94% of certain female prison populations, experienced physical or sexual abuse before being incarcerated. Black women make up a quarter of the incarcerated population in California, yet are only five percent of the adult population, demonstrating a fatal overrepresentation of Black women inside. Similar disparities exist for other individuals of color, including Latinx and indigenous communities. Trans and non-binary survivors are vastly overrepresented in prisons. Less than 1% of California’s population identifies as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex, yet make up 1% of the prison population.
AB 124 would create just outcomes moving forward, provide full context of the experiences that contributed to a survivor’s actions or inactions, and use a more humanizing and trauma-informed response to criminal adjudication.
AB 124 would:
- Extend the existing affirmative defense statute, which currently applies to human trafficking survivors, to include survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, and expand the statute’s application beyond non-violent offenses to all offenses;
- Require prosecutors to consider the impact of violence experienced by the survivor, whether the individual was a youth at the time of the commission of the offense, or whether the individual was a victim of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, or human trafficking during plea negotiations;
- Create a presumption that judges should start at the lower term when sentencing a survivor to prison if trauma, age, or victimization contributed to the commission of the offense, while maintaining a judge’s discretion to order the middle or high term if the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors;
- Direct a sentencing judge to consider the impacts of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, childhood trauma, and abuse on a person when deciding whether imposing a discretionary enhancement may be contrary to the interests of justice (i.e. running sentences consecutively versus concurrently);
- Allow judges to consider whether the survivor’s experience of trauma, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking was a contributing factor in the commission of the offense when evaluating a survivor’s petition for resentencing; and
- Expand the vacatur law to allow survivors to petition the court to vacate convictions and expunge arrests for any crime that was the direct result of being a victim of human trafficking, intimate partner violence, or sexual violence.
NCYL is co-sponsoring this bill alongside Black Futures Lab Public Policy Institute, California Coalition of Women Prisoners (CCWP), Free to Thrive, Human Rights Watch, Survived and Punished, USC School of Law Post Conviction Clinic, The Women’s Foundation of California, Women’s Policy Institute, and Young Women’s Freedom Center (YWFC). Our coalition represents a broad group of stakeholders that are direct service providers, individuals who were formerly incarcerated, survivors of exploitation, and experts in pertinent areas of law.
Author: Assemblymember Kamlager
Co-authors: Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan, Assemblymember Burke, Assemblymember Garcia, Assemblymember Quirk, Assemblymember L. Rivas, and Assemblymember Wicks.