New California Criminal Law Changes for 2021

Major changes to California’s criminal justice system went into effect on January 1, 2021, that will impact the treatment of criminal offenders. Many of the new changes are the result of criminal justice reforms that are intended to emphasize the rehabilitation and the fair treatment of criminal defendants. These reforms are also the result of the growing costs of overcrowded prisons, the high rate of re-offenders, and egregious acts of police abuses that have caught the public’s attention.

Here are some of the important criminal law changes in California that will take effect in 2021:

Reduced Lifetime Sex Offender Registration

SB 384 reduces the number of people required to register as sex offenders for life by up to 90%. SB 384 establishes a new three-tier system that defines registration requirements in terms of 10 years, 20 years, or a lifetime, depending upon the severity of the offense. Beginning January 1, sex offender registrants who meet certain requirements can petition the court in their county of residence for termination of the requirement to register as a sex offender in the state.

Courts have 60 days to review the request and determine if the petitioner has complied with all their sex offender registration requirements and hasn’t been convicted of another crime. If the offender meets these requirements, the court can terminate their status as a sex offender.

Misdemeanor Diversion

Under AB 3234, judges can offer misdemeanor diversion to most offenders. If the defendant complies with the terms of the court-ordered diversion program, the arrest will be dismissed and erased from the record. Certain domestic violence charges, stalking, and registrable sex offenses are not eligible for misdemeanor diversion.

Ban on Police Choke Holds

AB 1196 bans chokeholds and carotid restraint by law enforcement. According to AB 1196, a carotid restraint is defined as a vascular neck restraint or any similar restraint, hold, or defensive tactic that applies pressure to the sides of a person’s neck and involves substantial risk of restricting blood flow and can render the person unconscious to subdue or control them. A chokehold is defined as any defensive tactic or use of force that applies direct pressure to a person’s trachea or windpipe.

Restoring Felon Voting Rights

Under Proposition 17, people on parole can vote. Proposition 17 also allows parolees to run for office if they are registered to vote and have not been convicted of bribery or perjury. Proposition 17 is estimated to give approximately 50,000 felons in California on probation the right to vote.

California Racial Justice Act

AB 2542 allows people who have been charged or convicted of a crime to challenge the conviction or sentence by showing discrimination occurred in their case. Individuals must prove that a lawyer, law enforcement officer, juror, expert witness, or judge had a racial bias towards the defendant during the case or that racially discriminating language was used during the trial towards the defendant. Statistical evidence that shows persons of a particular race are charged or convicted of certain crimes or charge enhancement or are subject to longer or more severe sentences can also be used to prove racial discrimination.

Do you need to speak to a lawyer regarding a criminal defense matter? If so, please reach out to Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at to request a case consultation to discuss your options under the law.