Prioritizing Remote Access, Language Access, And More
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, courts regularly use remote technology to conduct proceedings, holding about 10,000 civil and criminal hearings remotely around the state each day. These remote options reduce time and expenses for Californians and vulnerable court users (and saved an estimated 3 million trips to courthouses each year), and increase participation of litigants, attorneys, court, staff, and others at hearings. A survey conducted by the Judicial Council found 96% of people had a positive experience with remote proceedings. The Ad Hoc Workgroup on Post-Pandemic Initiatives delivered its final report at the Nov. 17 Judicial Council meeting, recommending the expansion of remote access and sharing recommendations on remote hearings. With all the benefits of remote hearings in mind, courts throughout California can continue to conduct remote hearings on most civil matters under SB 133 until Jan. 1, 2026. Existing criminal proceedings can continue remotely until Jan. 1, 2025, under SB 135.
Over 200 languages are spoken in California. As another way of expanding equal access to justice, new laws will seek to clarify, retain, and expand the court interpreter workforce. AB 1032 creates and clarifies calendar limits on court interpreter terms and provides guidance for local courts to retain their court interpreter workforce, while SB 101 funds a five-year pilot program to cover the costs of training, coursework, and interpreter exam fees to increase the number of court interpreters.
Additionally, the state has authorized 26 superior court judgeships to better meet the needs of court users and increase access to justice (SB 75), subject to funding by the Legislature.
Focusing On Mental Health
Courts will continue to roll out Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act programs in 2024 to deliver mental health treatment and support services to the most vulnerable Californians. The law authorizes petitioners such as family members or first responders to request court-ordered treatment and services for those with untreated schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders. In 2023, eight counties implemented the CARE Act: Glenn, Orange, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Los Angeles. The remaining counties in California must implement the CARE Act by Dec. 1, 2024 (SB 35).
Conservatorships have also been in the spotlight this year. Now, probate conservators must submit comprehensive care plans to the court beginning Jan. 1, 2025 (SB 280). These care plans will be made confidential and releasable by the court only if it would serve the best interests of the conservatee.
Additionally, courts will be required to notify individuals of their need for mental health services if they are found incompetent to stand trial, whose misdemeanor charges have been dismissed by the court, and who are not receiving court-directed services, and provide contact information for county behavioral health, Medi-Cal, and community-based mental health (SB 717).
Possession and Relinquishment of Firearms
Defendants participating in mental health diversion will no longer be able to own or possess firearms, if ordered by the court under AB 455. Firearms can also be confiscated when a domestic violence protective order is issued or at the scene of a domestic violence incident (AB 818). Under AB 732, defendants must relinquish all firearms within 48 hours of a conviction on a relevant offense if the defendant is out of custody. Courts will have the authority to issue hearing dates and/or search warrants to confirm the relinquishment of firearms.
A new law under AB 28 will establish a tax on licensed firearm dealers, manufacturers, and ammunition vendors to fund anti-gun violence programs, and any excess tax generated after a certain threshold will support a court-based firearm relinquishment grant program.
In addition, anyone prohibited from possessing firearms will be prohibited from possessing body armor and must relinquish any in their possession under AB 92.
Updates on Criminal Law
Under AB 600, courts can recall a sentence and resentence a defendant in a criminal proceeding to align with any new laws. The district attorney or Attorney General would no longer be required to concur during such resentencing. Courts would also weigh postconviction factors and determine if incarceration is no longer in the interest of justice (for example, if evidence is found that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated). Resentencing may not occur if the court finds the defendant currently poses an unreasonable risk of danger to public safety.
Defendants previously convicted of an offense punishable by life without the possibility of parole will no longer be able to be released on bail under AB 791.
In cases involving human trafficking or abuse, victims have the right to have a human trafficking advocate and a support person of their choosing present at an interview by law enforcement (SB 376).
Other Law of Note
In civil court, the jurisdictional limit for filing in small claims court will increase from $10,000 to $12,500, and the limit will increase from $25,000 to $35,000 in limited civil cases (SB 71).
Read the full 2023 Summary of Court Related Legislation.