A new bill proposed by California Democrats could extend the reach of a recently passed racial discrimination law that prohibits the state from seeking criminal convictions or sentences based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.

AB 256 would make AB 2542 retroactive, which could open up a large number of challenges to convictions where race may have been a factor. When it went into effect on Jan. 1, AB 2542 added evidence of racial discrimination to new or false evidence as factors that defense counsel could cite upon filing a writ of habeus corpus.

The new bill was introduced on Thursday by Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), and was co-authored by a team of 17 Democratic co-authors.

“While passing last year’s bill was a major step towards addressing institutionalized and implicit racism in our courts,  the work is not done,” Kalra said in a press statement. “It is incumbent upon us to make sure that all Californians are afforded the opportunity to pursue justice by making the measure retroactive–ensuring that new protections are rightfully extended to those who have already been harmed by unfair convictions and sentences.”

The California District Attorneys Association, which opposed AB 2542, also came out against AB 256. The association sent written testimony to the Senate Public Safety Committee, describing it a huge burden to the court system that could grind it to a halt by creating a backlog of cases that would be opened up for review, compounding the delays the criminal justice system already faces due to the pandemic.

“These hearings will involve massive amounts of statistical evidence which must take into account numerous and intangible factors in order to be valid,” the association wrote.

Potential evidence of discrimination could include racist statements by police, prosecutors or judges. Defense attorneys could also argue that racially motivated jury selection or length of a defendant’s sentence based on race is enough to warrant the review of a conviction.

Proponents of AB 256 say it could help address decades of discriminatory prosecution in California. The ACLU, the California Coalition of Women Prisoners and other advocacy groups that helped pass AB 2542 are also supporting the new bill.

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