2023 Changes in California Criminal Law
As the new year fast approaches, let's go over a couple of key changes in the law that will go into effect (hopefully while you're too busy enjoying a midnight kiss with a loved one to care).
I'm not going to talk about every single thing that's changing because uh, this is a criminal defense blog. As such, I get into more of the nitty-gritty of what the changes in the law actually mean in practice as opposed to some broad-strokes "hey this is cool for society" summary. I hope you enjoy.
Class 3 E-Bikes No Longer A Vehicle Code Violation in Bike Lanes, Trails
The state previously prohibited you from operating either a motorized bicycle or class 3 electric bicycle in bike lanes, trails, hiking trails, and equestrian trails.
Motorized bikes can get up to 32 mph (oof!) and class 3 ebikes can get up to 28 mph. Class 1 and 2 e-bikes don't quite get up to that speed. You could get an infraction for riding those speed-bois in prohibited areas. Local authorities such as the Parks and Recreation Department could impose their own regulations too.
Newly amended Vehicle Code section 21207.5 now only prohibits motorized bikes. So if you're dying to fly down the bike lane in a shiny new e-bike, the state is no longer stopping you. But you'll still want to check out the local municipal codes in your area. I just checked the county and city muni codes here in Redding and didn't find anything, so once this new law goes into effect you probably can't get a ticket (unless/until they add one). DISCLAIMER: Legal does not mean safe. You can do a lot of stupid things that can kill you without breaking the law. Dying in a e-bike accident seems like a pretty lame way to go, so do be careful.
Now You Can Jaywalk (Kinda)
This one you've maybe heard a bit about. While vehicles will still have to obey all traffic signals, the rules are changing for pedestrians and bicyclists when it comes to Walk/Don't Walk signs or "pedestrian control signals" at intersections. Vehicle Code section 21456 is being amended to include language dictating that a peace officer is not to stop a pedestrian unless a reasonable person would be aware that there is an "immediate danger" of a collision with a vehicle or manpowered object in the road. The statute is clear that pedestrians and motorists still have to exercise their duty of due care, so don't go flinging yourself into the road in the hopes of winning a negligence lawsuit. I also wouldn't recommend going out in the morning on January 1st and jaywalking all over town and yelling at the cops that it's legal now. Innocent people get dragged through the court system all the time and this probably isn't the hill to die on. The person who wrote the bill cited the disproportionate ticketing of low-income folks and people of color, so this is motivated to stop police abuse of discretion, not telling you to run around in the street.
In 2024, the same code section will be amended to allow bicyclists to cross at pedestrian control signals without having to get off and walk their bikes, except at intersections that also have a separate bicycle control signal. Bicyclists will follow the same traffic signals as vehicles except where there are bicycle-specific signals to follow. Importantly, it doesn't look like bicyclists are going to be included in the whole "don't stop them unless they almost cause an accident" thing, just pedestrians.
The "Three Feet For Safety" Act (Not To Be Confused With Boil For Safety)
If you're a motorist attempting to pass a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, you will be required to give a safe amount of clearance and at least three feet of clearance, either by changing lanes or by slowing down until you can safely change lanes. "Safe" and "three feet" are two separate provisions of Vehicle Code section 21760. That means the "safe" provision theoretically allows you to be cited if you give a cyclist even more than three feet distance but that still wasn't enough to be safe. If you violate this new law and there's no collision or injury, it's an infraction and a $25 fine, and if there is a collision and the cyclist is injured, that goes up to $220. This also means the cyclist is going to have that much better of a lawsuit against you once they can argue that you violated a specific statute.
No More Bike Licenses
The state is amending Vehicle Code 39002 section to now prohibit local agencies from requiring a license for bicycles. I mean, everyone totally had bicycle licenses, right? ...Right?
Prosecutors Can't Argue That They "Caught You Riding Dirty" Just Because You Said It In A Rap Song
If you're being prosecuted for a crime and the district attorney wants to use your rap lyrics against you, you're now entitled to a pretrial hearing before they can show anything to a jury. Thank goodness Drakeo the Ruler had an amazing attorney who managed to get his acquittal even without that protection in place. Rest in paradise, Mr. Mosley.
Increased Penalties for Hate Symbols In Public Spaces; K-12 and Colleges Now Included
Prior to January 1st, you could already be punished pursuant to Penal Code section 11411 for leaving a noose hanging, putting a Nazi swastika up, or burning a cross with intent to terrorize a person. This prohibition applied to private or "specified nonprivate property." It looks like the Legislature amended the wording to make it clear that this includes schools because it wasn't in the original law.
The punishment is also different. The words "county jail" no longer appear in the language of the amended law, meaning that this is now a state prison eligible offense. (That doesn't necessarily mean you WILL go to prison, it means that if you are convicted and probation is either denied or revoked and terminated, you will serve out your sentence in state prison instead of county). This offense is a "wobbler" meaning it can be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, but in either case, the fines can be steep--up to $15,000 depending on whether it's a repeat offense.
Maybe Don't Steal Catalytic Converters Anymore
Senate Bill 1087 limits the sale of used catalytic converters except by authorized sellers (mechanics, dealers, etc.) Assembly Bill 1740 requires anyone accepting a catalytic converter to keep detailed documentation on the item. Failure to abide by these new regulations will be a criminal misdemeanor with hefty fines.
Expansion of Record Clearance Eligibility For Those With Criminal Records
Starting in 2023, controlled substance offenses that have been expunged and are more than five years old will no longer be permitted as a reason to deny a credential. Not only that, but some language in the statute indicates that disclosure is not allowed, meaning that the conviction doesn't even make it to your new boss's desk. That's really great news for people who until now have been boxed out of certain professions due to a past addiction that may be ancient history.
As of 2022, the Department of Justice has been required to check their database monthly and remove arrest records for misdemeanor offenses that were dismissed or that were not filed within one year. They also had to remove felony arrests if nothing was filed within three years, but if a prosecutor went ahead and filed a case (no matter how weak) the arrest remained on your record. Arrests for felonies punishable with state prison remained on your record regardless of whether they were ever filed or dismissed.
Now, the Department of Justice will go through each month and remove arrest records for felonies that were dismissed or not filed within three years, even if the offense was prison eligible.
If you did time in prison (not county jail) after January 1, 2005 but have not been subsequently convicted of a felony offense in the previous four years, this new senate bill seems to allow your criminal conviction to be automatically expunged, with two exceptions. Individuals with "serious" or "violent" (Three Strikes) offenses cases do not get the benefit automatically, but they can file petitions to get an expungement, which they couldn't do before. Convicted sex offenders requiring PC 290 registration cannot get the benefit of the law at all.
It's worth noting that with the exception of aged-out controlled substance convictions, expungements do not prevent potential adverse action for someone who wants to teach or work at a public school. That doesn't mean that you can't potentially get hired in those positions or even that getting the expungement can't still be beneficial--that will come down to the individual employer's discretion.
The State Prison System Is Being Pressured To More Effectively Assist Inmates And Recently Released Parolees/Post-Releasees
The California Rehabilitation Oversight Board will now be required to meet twice a month and analyze the effectiveness of programs for prisoners and parolees designed to assist with obtaining parole and assisting with re-integration. They are to look specifically at how they can help avoid homelessness, joblessness, and the resulting mental health and substance abuse (and recidivism) that people experience when they do not have their basic needs met. We'll have to wait and see what kind of changes they actually end up implementing, but it's encouraging that they are being ordered to look at what they're doing and basically give themselves performance evaluations--with the data to back it up.
Addressing The School-To-Prison Pipeline
This new piece of legislation is intended to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline by regulating student disciplinary action, but at this phase, the Legislature is only requiring the State Department of Education to talk to the experts and come up with new practices; there's not actually a concrete plan for what changes will be made yet. As with Senate Bill 903, it's not clear yet whether this will result in dramatic changes because that will ultimately depend what the Department of Education comes up with.
It's clear from these changes that the Legislature is still generally moving in the direction of criminal justice reform, trying to give second chances to people with convictions, and chipping away at the laws that give police and prosecutors too much power to hassle Californians or kick them when they're down. Once the laws go into effect, they'll be tested in the courts.