In the last few years, California’s legislature has been at the forefront of enacting laws aimed at reforming the State’s criminal justice system and rectifying the injustices and the disproportionate effect that some of the State’s policies have had on marginalized and minority communities.
As part of the ongoing effort to fight the biases and racial discrimination that have been prevalent in our criminal legal system, in 2020, the California legislature passed AB 2542, or the Racial Justice Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2021. The law prohibited the state from obtaining or seeking to obtain a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. The landmark law was a step in the right direction and was welcomed by criminal justice reform advocates.
Prior to the passing of AB 2542, proving racial biases was almost impossible. In the 1987 decision McClesky v. Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed an unreasonably high burden on defendants to prove racism in criminal cases. In short, the Court required defendants to prove intentional discrimination and held that statistical disparities are not enough to show a constitutional violation.