Dear California Legislator –
You have been asked to vote on SB 9.
This bill could free the convicted murderers who brutally and deliberately took the lives of our loved ones.
Most of the families like ours that would be affected by SB 9 do NOT know about it. This is in violation of our constitional victims rights in California. We ask that you stand up for at least the victims rights to be notified of and heard in this process.
Of the 280 cases of murderers affected by SB 9 in California, only 8 victims families that we know of know about this proposed retroactive legislation that would so dramatically alter the rest of their already devastated lives.
Please read the pages at this website that address the misinformation you have been given. See our Myths and Facts page, and please read the Offender section at the tab above, under Offenders by State and look at all the California murderers by county that would be potentially freed under SB 9. The horrible crimes committed by these offenders are truly brutal and deserves your full attention.
Please read legal analysis from a prominent California attorney that describes how SB 9 is unconstitutional.
Please read the letter of the California District Attorneys in opposition to SB 9. This bill would cost taxpayers millions, lead to endless legal challenges, deny victims legal finality and violate their rights because of the retroactivity of the bill.
Please read financial analysis of the REAL COST of SB 9 to the California Taxpayers, submitted by a leading defense attorney.
Please vote NO on SB 9, at least until all the victims families have been found and notified and had a chance to participate, if they so choose.
We thank the California Legislators who heard SB 9 in Committee and voted NO. Yes votes to free these convicted murderers sentenced to life ignore victims rights and public safety: Loni Hancock, Ron Calderon, Carol Liu, Curren Price & Darrell Steinberg (he wasn’t present at the hearing). Victims thank the NO votes for their concern for us, Senators Joel Anderson & Sen Tom Harman.
Below is a letter from a victim family member who is also a prominent attorney and legal expert:
Dear California Legislator –
Senator Yee’s Juvenile LWOP bill, SB 9 has many unintended and extraordinarily expensive consequences. The bill is promoted as addressing an outrage of children, who often do not personally kill, being sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment for indiscretions that arise more from immaturity than from any cruelty or moral absence.
However, as written, the bill will create an endless procession of lawsuits, evidentiary hearings, appeals, writs and enormous expert witness fees. The waste will be in the tens of millions of dollars over a few short years and it will be never ending. A well crafted bill could achieve the ends of the author but avoid the huge financial quagmire.
Some of the financial land mines arise from the vague description of the court’s reevaluation process for qualifying inmates.
First, you should be aware that virtually every inmate will qualify for full scale judicial review.
Those who attempt to qualify and are rejected, will obtain court appointed counsel to file petitions challenging any summary rejection. As this bill revisits the original sentencing there is no question that these attorneys are required and will be state funded.
In almost all cases it will be an abuse of discretion not to consider the petition. In that case a full scale evidentiary hearing will be required.
The defense will argue that under federal law, (e.g. Apprendi et al.), the prosecution will have the burden of proof at the hearing beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors will argue that both sentences are within the court’s discretion and that the decision is within the discretion of the court.
This will be litigated for years.
Regardless of the burden of proof, the hearings will involve a revival of the original case. Witnesses will have to be located on sentencing issues (so old transcripts will not be sufficient). Past records, school records, IEP reports (if applicable) and other documentation will be obtained. Experts will be hired to perform neuropsychological examinations and psychological evaluations. Jail and prison records will be subpoenaed. All C-Files (Prison files) will be hand reviewed and redacted. Investigators will interview other prisons, staff etc.
The hearing will be a mini death penalty type hearing.
Senator Yee’s bill delineates certain factors that a court must consider. These are all factors defined in SB 9 and they grossly favor the defendant. There is a catch all that allows the court to consider any other factors. This means that there is virtually no limit to what else can be used.
Each hearing will result in an appeal. The defendant has nothing to lose. He gets multiple hearings and multiple appeals on this point. The prosecution will likely appeal any
determination favorable to the defendant. The appeals will be a mess. The bill does not speak of future dangerousness or threat of harm to the families of the victims or witnesses. What weight should that be given? More than the delineated factors? Less? Does it vary? This will be yet another appellate issue that will be raised with bill. I have addressed the burden of proof issue but there are other issues as well.
Can the judge order a future dangerousness study? Must the defendant testify or can he/she be compelled to testify?
Another important issue is whether remorse is a factor to be considered? Senator Yee’s bill redefines remorse so that it no longer means being sorry for or admitting to the crime. But what about a plain English definition of remorse? Can the judge expect the defendant to admit wrongdoing, confront it and admit it? Can a judge expect a truly reformed individual to provide information about other co-defendants? Other gang members? (If applicable) Can the failure to do these things be the basis of a rejection?
The appeals will be endless on these issues and they will reach the federal courts because federal rights are implicated.
The savings due to reduced incarceration cost argument is one that both offensive to me and disingenuous. It is not a good faith argument in my mind. Whenever “cost of incarceration” is quoted, the total costs are divided by the numbers of inmates. We get figures like $ 30,000. What is ignored is that the release of inmates does not impact fixed costs, e.g. heating a facility, facility maintenance, lights etc. A real cost figure would assume the fixed costs and calculate the additional cost per inmate. That additional cost could include additional staff but in many cases it will not. Estimates I have seen for Juvenile LWOP offenders being released show a negligible financial impact based mostly on costs of food, medical care and other services.
No financial analysis considers the fact that over 50% of parolees are rearrested for serious crimes. Of course, one arrest is like one ant in your house. If you see one, there are probably many. The cost for police services, costs to insurance companies and new victims are ignored in these financial analyses.
As a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, I am well aware of the pain that injustice in our system can cause. I am also aware of how easily the good intentions of many people can be misused by inmates, their families and by those who genuinely seek to accomplish something of value.
SB 9 will ultimately open the gates of Hell. It will free some people whose sentences are unreasonably harsh but it does so in a way that guarantees that serial killers and sociopaths will be free as well. The ambiguities in the bill and its imprecise language guarantee appellae litigation for years. The three attempt language and the major hearings will eat up precious court time and money.
There are many alternatives that are well written and targeted that could accomplish the goals of those who in good conscience, support the principles that underlie SB 399. We should be reviewing those proposals and ensuring that those who live to kill remain behind bars. The money that we save by a targeted bill can be used for education, fighting sexual abuse and helping preserve families. If we do that, we can fight injustice and prevent future violence. The present bill wastes money and creates a guarantee of future murders.
The Sacramento Bee reports that the average teacher salary in California is $ 67,932 per year. This means that five full time teachers could be hired, for each attempt to release a murderer under Senator Yee’s bill. Instead of the costly and cumbersome process created by SB9, the cost of a simple review of sentences by a panel of experienced jurists for potential miscarriages of justice would be a fraction of that amount. In egregrious cases, such a panel could recommended a pardon by the Governor. The costs of this would be relatively minor and it would achieve the same goals – avoiding a miscarriage of justice. This simplified process would spare the families of victims the endless torture of hearing after hearing where the death of their loved one is minimized and the self serving excuses of the killers are trumpeted as grounds for release. Under Senator Yee’s bill, a person meets one of the criteria for potential release by writing letters to his family ! Remorse, confession of guilt and cooperating against co-killers, is optional and barely mentioned in SB9. Sorrow for one’s own situation is the focus of SB9 and not sorrow for the pain and horror inflicted by the killer. The bill is also so loosely written that virtually every killer, juvenile (or adult, except for the age requirement) would qualify under its criteria. Charles Manson, Scott Peterson, Ted Bundy would all qualify. The cost of the release of these type killers, (albeit ones who got caught before they were eighteen years old) will ensure that the cycle of violence will be renewed. Years in prison will not bring out human kindness in the hearts of these stone cold juvenile killers. What will be released will be 30-40 year old hardened criminals whose capacity for violence is unrestrained. When that cost is factored into the bill the $ 381,000 cost can be multiplied 10 fold! Meanwhile, schools lack teachers and the very students who might be deterred from a life of crime are deprived so that Senator Yee and the proponents of SB9 can claim compassion. Real compassion is putting money and attention to child in need and children at risk. Ignoring the pain of the families of murder victims and freeing 40 year old sociopaths is not compassion.
California Attorney and Husband of Murder Victim Pamela Vitale
Victim Testimony from a Family of a Murder Victim of Teen Killers
This testimony was given by Michelle Bettencourt against SB 9 in Sacramento on April 5, 2011:
We are the Bettencourt Family. Our son Chaz William Bettencourt was murdered by other teens who knew exactly what they were doing. He was a loving soul who had so much to offer in life. He was my only son.
Chaz was 21 years old and was to begin college this year to become a Substance abuse counselor. He wanted to help teens and adults to lead a better life. He wanted especially to help teens such as the three troubled juveniles who took his life on August5, 2010.
A midnight trip to the store for a soda turned into a brutal murder. Chaz and his friend were leaving the store. 3 teens approached them demanding the keys to their car. His friend went back into the store to yell at the clerk to call 911.
The killers fired two shots, and then fled the scene. Chaz was hit, a bullet in my baby’s body.
But he was still alive as he ran scared for his life. He ran, but then finally collapsed, and died at the scene.
Paramedics was unable to revive him. Chaz didn’t even have a chance.
Mick Hardenbrook who is head of the Sheriffs department of homicide said of the crime: “It’s truly disturbing to see how these suspects’ attacked the victim like a pack of wolves”. He investigated the crime and he said the killers murdered my son like a pack of wolves.
The three teens ages 14, 15, & 18 years old are charged with murder, carjacking & gang enhancement. All have previous criminal backgrounds as well.
The trial has not yet happened in our case and we do not know what their sentence will be.
But we are here to oppose the bill SB9.
It is truly disturbing to think offenders that could murder my son in cold blood but later be released on “good behavior”.
Please tell me who cannot behave well behind bars?
Please tell me how they can brutally murder an innocent victim like my son, but then be released?
They should be punished for the rest of their lives. Chaz lost the rest of his life.
Behind bars they can still have family, friends, education, experiences, joy, sorrow, love, and a life.
Chaz is dead and they murdered him.
We who have survived would have to appear, over and over again, at the killers’ parole hearings. We would have to relive the nightmare of having to constantly re-engage over and over with these people who murdered my son, perhaps for the rest of my life.
We would never achieve legal finality in our case. Ever. We would never be able to put it behind us.
Other victims’ families of teen killers affected by this proposed legislation are not here today. I promise you it’s not because they don’t care.
It’s because they do NOT KNOW you are doing this. They aren’t here because you have taken up this bill without notifying the people who deserve the most to have some say in this.
They should have been told. They should be here.
Once found guilty and given their due process, a natural life sentence is entirely appropriate for crimes this serious.
My son does not have a 2nd chance of life again.
Please vote no on SB 9.
A Letter from a California Legislator (NOTE: NOVJL strongly affirms the bi-partisan nature of this issue – Democrats and Republicans alike support public safety, victims rights, and justice for those who commit crime. This is NOT a “left versus right” issue, but we feel the article below is otherwise very important to understand)
RELEASING COLD BLOODED KILLER BACK IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD
August 31, 2011
Democrats were just one vote away in the State Assembly from passing one of the most misguided public safety measures in California’s history – Senate Bill 9 authored by San Francisco Democrat Leland Yee.
This bill would allow murderers who were juveniles at the time they committed their crime and who were sentenced to life without parole to ask the court for re-sentencing up to three times. Given the language of the bill and the long history of Democrats supporting efforts to weaken California’s tough-on-crime laws, SB 9 is just the latest attempt by them to prioritize criminal rights.
That is why I joined a number of public safety officials and organizations such as the California Police Chiefs Association and Crime Victims United to oppose this bill because it could give a slap on the wrist to dangerous criminals like Jimmy Siackasorn.
Siackasorn, who was 16 at the time, shot Sacramento County detective Vu Nguyen three times and killed him while being chased on foot. He later told officers that he knew the detective was a police officer, and shot him because “he deserved it.” Under SB 9, cold-blooded murderers like Siackasorn could petition the court for re-sentencing under the right conditions and not prove he has shown genuine remorse. By just reading a self-help book and saying “I’m sorry,” he could have the opportunity to receive a lighter sentence.
The supporters of SB 9 would have you believe that it is about providing misguided people a chance at redeeming themselves. While I believe in the power of redemption, it has to be accompanied by repentance, which cannot be guaranteed by SB 9.
That is because if you look beyond the rhetoric, you will see that the bill establishes weak criteria where many inmates would be entitled to a court hearing to reconsider their original sentence. This criterion includes availing themselves of education programs in prison such as self-study – which is a ridiculously low standard to meet. A prisoner meeting these guidelines does not have to prove that he has truly recognized the error of his ways.
Even worse, SB 9 could reopen the painful wounds of many crime victim families on up to three separate occasions. If an inmate’s request for re-sentencing is denied the first time, he can try two more times, an agonizing ordeal for any family to go through. Instead of showing compassion to criminals, I suggest showing some compassion to their victims and families, who deserve justice and who expect the state to uphold the people’s will.
SB 9 is not about ensuring fairness, but rather undermining the strong public safety laws that have kept the worst of the worst behind bars. Keep in mind we are not talking about kids who broke into someone’s car qualifying for a reduced sentence, but potentially giving dangerous criminals a break who brutally murdered their victims. That makes no sense.
Finally, the state already has a system in place to ensure that those who showed genuine rehabilitation in prison can have a shot at a lighter sentence. Prisoners and their families can petition the Governor for a commutation, and previous Governors have granted commutations when the circumstances warranted it.
Although SB 9 fell one vote short of passage in the Assembly, it could come back for a vote in the near future if liberal Democrats can find one other moderate Democrat to vote for it. I will continue to work with the public safety community and crime victim families to ensure that SB 9 does not get that one additional vote. Keeping our communities safe must always remain our top priority.
Read the whole article at: http://www.flashreport.org/featured-columns-library0b.php?faID=2011083101494758
The Sacramento Bee calls SB 9 “FLAWED”
Sacramento Bee VIEWPOINT – August 2011 – Recommending a NO Vote on the “Flawed” SB 9:
“…(T)his legislation as written opens up a tangle of issues that makes its potential impact disturbing. First, a justice system that changes the rules in the middle of the game is not just. Prosecutors and judges already have discretion in seeking and imposing life-without-parole sentences and have reserved it for the “worst of the worst.” Most teen criminals in California are tried in the juvenile court system and must be released at age 25. Of those tried in adult court, only first-degree murder with special circumstances can result in life without parole, and only for 16- and 17-year-olds. All states allow juveniles to be tried as adults in criminal court under certain circumstances, according to the U.S. Justice Department. At the committee hearing, Heide Steiner, her voice cracking as she spoke, her 7-year-old son by her side, held up a photo of her husband, California Highway Patrol Officer Thomas Steiner, who was murdered by a 16-year-old with a semi-automatic weapon, a “hit” as a gang initiation. Teen killers convicted in Sacramento County include Jimmy Siackasorn, who was 16 when he shot Sheriff’s Deputy Vu Nguyen in the neck during a routine check in a gang neighborhood; Frank Abella, who was 17 when he and a friend kicked a disabled man in Rancho Cordova in the head and then shot him with a BB gun, 13 times in the torso and seven times in the face; and two 16-year-olds who beat a 90-year-old Sacramento grandmother to death. In all these cases, trials have been conducted, witnesses and victims’ families have testified, everyone has played by the rules. SB 9, however, is retroactive – raising serious constitutional and due-process questions. It does a legislative end run around the intent of the voters who in 2008 passed Marsy’s Law, which strengthened victims’ rights and due process. Among its provisions, Marsy’s Law gives victims the right to “a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings.” SB 9 violates this provision by taking a final conclusion of a case and reopening it, victims say, retroactively introducing parole reviews for early release after a life-without-parole sentence had been imposed. Because murder victims’ families believed their case was over, they often did not retain the records and contacts they would need to be prepared for new parole hearings – an unfair violation of due process, they say. Importantly, appeals and clemency are already available for sentences deemed too harsh. Last January, for example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger granted clemency to Sara Kruzan, who had been sentenced to life without parole for killing her 37-year-old pimp. Instead of this legislation, a “simple review of sentences by a panel of experienced jurists for potential miscarriages of justice” could better accomplish the goals of those who “in good conscience support the principles that underlie SB 9,” suggests Daniel Horowitz, a California defense attorney and the husband of Pamela Vitale, who was bludgeoned to death by a 16-year-old. In appropriate cases such a panel could recommend a pardon by the governor, he says. The costs of this approach would be relatively minor, he says, and would spare the families of victims “the endless torture of hearing after hearing” where the death of their loved one is relived.”