State Sen. Sydney K. Kamlager’s (D – Los Angeles) bill, AB 333: The STEP Forward Act passed off the Senator Floor Sept. 1. The bill passed in a vote of 25-10 and now heads to the Assembly for a concurrence vote.
Currently, gang enhancement statutes have vague definitions, weak standards of proof, and are perhaps the most racially discriminatory part of the criminal justice system: 92 percent of people with gang enhancements in California are people of color.
AB 333 takes the first step towards addressing the pain caused by gang enhancements. It does so by reducing the list of crimes that allow gang enhancements to be charged, prohibiting the use of the current charge as proof of a “pattern” of criminal gang activity, and separating gang allegations from underlying charges at trial.
“At the heart of AB 333 is due process,” said Kamlager. “AB 333 just asks for the charges to be proven when they’re levied against someone. Right now, our system allows a shaved head, tattoos, or even the color of your grandma’s house as reason to be charged with a gang enhancement. That’s antithetical to how our judicial process should operate and I am glad we are one step closer to a fix.”
The Senate Floor vote came after a press conference hosted by Kamlager and sponsors of the bill to address current misinformation about what AB 333 does and doesn’t do. Speakers such as Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón; former prosecutor Yvette Mcdowell of Law Enforcement Action Partnership; and San Francisco Public Defender Manohar Raju joined to express their support.
In 2020, the California Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code (CCRPC) recommended limiting “gang enhancements to the most serious offenses.” The CCRPC found that “Gang enhancements are applied inconsistently and disproportionately against people of color, and fail to focus on the most dangerous, violent, and coordinated criminal activities.”
The bill now goes back to the Assembly for concurrence.