AB 256, known as the California Racial Justice Act for All that is a statute in the state of California, expands the limitations of the original Racial Justice Act passed in 2011. Its purpose is to allow persons with convictions or judgements prior to January 1, 2021 to petition the court and seek relief if racial bias was proven to be present in their case. Signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2022, it opens the door to address racial harm performed by law enforcement and other government officials and lower or acquit their sentencing.
The precedence of this act was based on AB 2542 or the Racial Justice Act which allowed individuals to challenge racial bias in criminal charges, convictions, and sentences but was limited to cases after January 1, 2021. The possibility to petition racial discrimination was slim to none due to the Supreme Court case of McCleskey v. Kemp, where racial discrimination put African-American defendants in unfair positions with lengthy sentences. This case was upheld and prevented the challenging of criminal justice polices and laws based on racial disparities and their effect on convicted persons. It is fortunate enough that the State of California has shifted its position on the Racial Justice Act and has made it its eligibility broader and fairly supported.
With the signage of AB 256, those with past judgements, sentences and convictions prior to January 1, 2021 can petition the court for retroactive relief based on the following phased-in timeline (provided by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice):
- January 1, 2023: individuals facing deportation or sentenced to death
- January 1, 2024: individuals incarcerated for a felony
- January 1, 2025: others with a felony conviction entered after 2015
- January 1, 2026: all others with a felony conviction
Priority for petition goes to those currently incarcerated than former inmates and defendants with a misdemeanor. Vacating your conviction that was based on racial discrimination and bias that is poisoned in the justice system can be applied if: blatantly racist statements by attorneys, judges, jurors and expert witnesses, the exclusion of all, or nearly all Black or Latinx people from serving on a jury, and stark statistical evidence showing systemic bias in charging and sentencing. Misconduct and error performed on your case with unjust intentions due to the color of your skin can be redressed with this legislation. African-Americans and people of color are more subjected to being criminally convicted unfairly compared to their white counterparts, and this brings in how racialized control has been the engine of the court system and its proceedings.
Current Story regarding the Act and its impact:
- California Racial Justice Act for All Signed Into Law - California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (cacj.org)
- AB 256 - ACLU California Action (aclucalaction.org)
- Documents Related to the Implementation of the Racial Justice Act | ACLU of Northern CA (aclunc.org)
- Ella Baker Center for Human Rights California Racial Justice Act for All Signed Into Law