National Center for Youth Law

STRATEGIES

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 by requiring judges to give great weight to the impact of trauma on the person’s behavior.

Overview

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.  Also, transgender, lesbian, and bisexual women, trans men, and gender non-conforming people are also disproportionately survivors of violence and overrepresented in prisons, though little quantitative research is available to highlight these disparities.

AB 124 will address these disparities and injustices by requiring the criminal justice system to consider the full context of relevant factors of a person’s situation and experiences, including age, gender, impacts of trauma, and stages of development and offer a more a humane and compassionate response to survivors who have already experienced unimaginable circumstances.

AB 124 would:

  • Expand survivors’ access to affirmative defense;
  • Compel courts to consider a survivor’s experience during bail hearings;
  • Grant judges the discretion to avoid imposing sentencing enhancements;
  • Require judges to give “great weight” to hallmarks of youth, trauma, sexual violence, and victimization through intimate partner violence and human trafficking when deciding to impose any sentence;
  • Grant judges the discretion to impose probation as a sentence for survivors, rather than prison;
  • Compel the prosecution to consider evidence that a survivor has suffered psychological or physical trauma or significant stress during plea negotiations;
  • Allow courts to consider survivors’ experience of childhood trauma, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and/or commercial sexual exploitation when evaluating whether to grant a reduced sentence; and
  • Expand vacatur law to allow survivors to petition the court to vacate convictions and expunge arrests for any crime that were the direct result of being a victim of human trafficking

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, 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 Garcia, and Assemblymember Wicks.