California law classifies some violent crimes, such as spousal abuse, as nonviolent for punishment purposes, and the Legislature has so far refused to make changes.
I’m doing something here that I’ve never done before while writing more than 10,000 columns about California politics: give over some space to a fellow pundit.
Emily Hoeven, a former CalMatters staffer who now opines for the San Francisco Chronicle, has written frequently about misguided California legislators who refuse to classify domestic violence and other horrendous crimes as violent.
Hoeven’s most recent missive points out that a former policeman who allegedly opened fire in an Orange County bar last week, killing three people and wounding six others, was apparently targeting his estranged wife.
“Although details are still emerging, the horrific incident appears to be the latest to underscore the undeniable connection between domestic violence and mass shootings,” she wrote. “Research has found that in more than 68% of U.S. mass shootings from 2014 through 2019, the shooter either had a history of domestic violence or killed at least one partner or family member.
“The gunman who killed 11 and injured nine in a January mass shooting at a Monterey Park (Los Angeles County) dance hall may have been hunting his ex-wife,” Hoeven continued. “Last year, a man shot and killed his three daughters and their adult chaperone at a supervised family visit at a Sacramento church. And the three men charged with murder in Sacramento’s deadliest shooting last year, which left six dead and 12 injured, all had histories of domestic violence.
“And that means lawmakers should take the long-overdue step of changing California’s penal code to classify domestic violence as a ‘violent’ crime.
“Despite its name, California considers domestic violence to be a ‘nonviolent’ offense. This means convicted abusers can more quickly shave time off their sentences and seek expedited release from prison. It also limits prosecutors’ ability to pursue steeper sentences for repeat offenders.
“This needs to change.”
Hoeven noted that earlier this year, the Assembly’s (perhaps misnamed) Public Safety Committee rejected a Republican bill to classify domestic violence as a violent crime, thereby making it easier to keep offenders behind bars.
This outrageous situation results from a 2016 ballot measure, sponsored principally by then-Gov. Jerry Brown and passed by voters, that purported to give those who commit nonviolent crimes chances to earn their way out of prison.
However, it was deceptive. Proposition 57’s indirect definition of a nonviolent crime was that it did not appear on a specific Penal Code list of 23 violent crimes.
That list only referred to particularly heinous crimes and omitted many offenses that ordinary folks would consider violent, including some forms of rape and domestic violence. The result is that those who commit some unspeakable crimes, including battering one’s spouse, are given kid gloves treatment in the penal system.
Brown insisted that state prison officials would continue to keep sex offenders behind bars, even though their crimes were officially deemed nonviolent. However, the state Supreme Court later declared that sex offenders were legally entitled to early releases because their crimes weren’t on the violent crime list.
Efforts in the Legislature and in ballot measures to expand California’s list of violent crimes have failed. The Legislature’s dominant Democrats are so committed to what they call “criminal justice reform” that they will not entertain expansion. They even killed a bill classifying child trafficking as a serious felony until being forced by a public outcry to keep the measure alive.
Last year, for while running for a full term as attorney general, Rob Bonta declared that the state’s list of violent crimes should be expanded. Having been safely elected, however, he has not lifted a finger to make it happen.