Cheat-Seeking Missles

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Californians, Please Support SB 476

I'll make this easy: There's an important hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday at 9:30 regarding SB 476, a measure to exend the Statute of Limitations for manslaughter from three years to 10 years. Dems are attempting to stonewall the bill, but anyone interested in law, justice and rational responses to crime should support it.

At the bottom of this post, I'll put a sample letter and an email address to send it to. Do it right away because the hearing is Tuesday. Here's why it's important, as explained by Thomas A. Smith, a professor at the University of San Diego Law School:
I am writing this letter to express my strong support for SB 476. Extending the statute of limitations [[SOL] for manslaughter to 10 years, as SB 476 would do, is an important reform of the criminal law in California and is long overdue. While it would not lead to the incarceration of many criminals in absolute terms, those that would be imprisoned under this law would be particularly dangerous offenders from whom California's citizens should be protected.

A three or five year SOL for manslaughter is a relic from an earlier time. In a world where people move quickly within the state and around the country, the model of investigation in which everyone who knows about a crime can be quickly interviewed and the truth arrived at, is obsolete. Furthermore, the crowded dockets of the courts and the increasing complexity of the civil laws mean that easily years can elapse before civil suits, which may reveal facts crucial to criminal homicide investigations, are settled or completed.

This happened in the case of Brian Gillis, whose tragic homicide is the motivation for this bill. The facts in his case only emerged as a result of the civil litigation, which lasted nearly three years. The office of the district attorney with jurisdiction over this case assured Brian's mother that they were waiting for the civil suit to be completed before they pursued the criminal investigation. Evidence did in fact emerge in the civil suit which could have been the basis for a manslaughter or even a murder prosecution, but by this time, the statute had nearly lapsed. With limited resources, and little time left on the statute, the DA elected not to pursue the case.

Facing such short time limits, law enforcement officials have the incentive to give up pursuing difficult cases even when serious offenses such as homicides are involved. Such short statutes of limitation also give defendants and witnesses implicated in wrongdoing every incentive not to cooperate with any investigation, civil or criminal. That is what appears to have happened in Brian's case, and why his killers may now relax, confident in their belief that the State of California cannot touch them. Brian's mom can tell you who killed her son, but they are now beyond the reach of the criminal law. Unless SB 476 is passed into law, there is no reason to think the same thing will not happen again to some California mother.

Manslaughter is a catch all provision that covers all but the most culpable homicides. The facts in Brian's case suggest crimes on the border between manslaughter and Second Degree Murder. For crimes such as these, ten years in an entirely appropriate statute of limitations, because of the gravity of offenses involved. While criminal defendants deserve speedy justice, crime victims deserve justice as well. Extending the statute of limitations for manslaughter is a small but important step in that direction. It is also, frankly, the very least that the State of California can do for a grieving mother who lost her son, and whose killers are free, even as the record of the civil trial explains who are responsible for Brian's death. The bill will not help in Brian's case, but at least it will make it more difficult in the future for those guilty of manslaughter to avoid justice by running out the clock.
There's more to this: It's important to support SB 476 to smack the Dems upside the head. Senator Gloria Romero, who chairs the committee hearing the bill, is on a rampage, holding up any bill that could impact prison overcrowding.

Unless you agree that the message criminals should get is that they should go ahead and commit crimes because you they be prosecuted and jailed, and unless you agree that people like the killers of Brian Gillis should go unpunished, send in the letter below:

Senator Dennis Hollingsworth,
Senator Gloria Romero,

R.E: Support Senate Bill 476

Dear Senator Hollingsorth and Senator Romero:

I am writing to urge your support for the enactment of SB 476, which would extend the statute of limitations for manslaughter to 10 years. While the bill will not lead to the incarceration of many criminals in absolute terms, those that would be imprisoned under this law would be particularly dangerous offenders from whom California's citizens should be protected.

Two phenomenon argue for a longer statute of limitations for manslaughter. First, today's society is extremely mobile, making it harder for investigators to track down witnesses and suspects. Second, crowed civil court dockets delay these cases, which can turn up evidence that can support manslaughter charges, beyond three years.

We must put the citizens of California and the victims of crime first, well ahead of concern about prison overcrowding. Support SB 476!

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