|Budget Issue:||Newly Identified Mandate: Domestic Violence Background Checks|
|Program:||Commission on State Mandates|
|Finding or Recommendation:||Eliminate future state costs for the Domestic Violence Background Checks mandate program by amending statute to eliminate all the elements of state law that have been found to be a state-reimbursable mandate, as they are unnecessary to achieve the Legislature’s objective of ensuring that judges have pertinent information regarding defendants’ criminal histories.|
Background. Chapter 572, Statutes of 2001 (SB 66, Kuehl), made several changes to state law related to domestic violence proceedings in criminal and family courts. Among these changes, Chapter 572 required that in all criminal domestic violence cases prosecutors must (1) review specified criminal justice databases in order to identify prior convictions and current restraining orders issued against the defendant, (2) present this information to the court at the bail consideration hearing and when the court considers a plea agreement, and (3) send information regarding a new conviction or restraining order to any other California criminal courts with existing restraining orders involving the same or related parties.
Mandate Decision. In July 2007, the Commission on State Mandates found that the state must reimburse cities and counties for specified costs associated with the three above requirements of Chapter 572 that local prosecutors review the criminal histories of defendants accused of domestic violence-related crimes and provide specified information to the courts. On September 28, 2012, based on claims filed by 25 cities and counties for 2001-02 through 2010-11, the commission estimated the state’s costs for this mandate to be $15.9 million.
Governor’s Budget Suspends Mandate. The 2013-14 Governor’s Budget proposes to suspend this mandate. Suspending the mandate would make local compliance with the above requirements optional in 2013-14. It also would allow the state to defer to a future date its obligation to pay the $15.9 million owed to local governments. Under the State Constitution, the state must fully fund a mandate in the budget unless the Legislature suspends or repeals it. This provision has been interpreted to mean that the Legislature may defer payment of prior-year costs for suspended or repealed mandates.
Mandate Program’s Requirements Unnecessary. Based on our conversations with stakeholders and practitioners, we find that the requirements placed on local prosecutors by this mandate program are unnecessary to achieve the Legislature’s objectives of ensuring that judges have pertinent information when setting bail, considering plea agreements, and reviewing restraining orders. This is because prosecutors routinely review and provide criminal history information to the court as part of their normal duties in criminal cases. In addition, judges are often required by law to consider similar information when making decisions, and frequently rely on prosecutors to provide that information as part of their normal responsibilities. In fact, we note that the State Constitution, as well as statute not included in this mandate, already requires judges to consider the criminal histories of all defendants when setting bail. There is, however, no similar requirement on judges when reviewing plea agreements or restraining orders.
LAO Recommendation. We recommend that the Legislature eliminate future state costs for this mandate by amending statute to eliminate all the elements of state law that have been found to be a state-reimbursable mandate, as they are unnecessary to achieve the Legislature’s objective of ensuring that judges have pertinent information regarding defendants’ criminal histories. Some stakeholders and practitioners note that, without this mandate, some judges may be less likely to have domestic violence defendants’ histories, especially in misdemeanor cases, which are often considered less serious than felonies. To the extent that this were to occur, judges could have an incomplete picture of a defendant’s potential for future violence when making decisions related to bail, plea agreements, or existing restraining orders. We would note, however, that the judicial branch has been expanding the availability of criminal history databases (including the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and the California Court Protective Order Registry) in its courts, allowing judges and their staffs to more easily access information about an individual’s criminal history and current restraining orders.
To the extent that the Legislature is concerned that eliminating this mandate would result in judges and prosecutors not consistently reviewing criminal histories before pertinent decisions in domestic violence cases, it could also amend state law to require judges to consider this information without specifically mandating that prosecutors provide it to them. Since the requirement would be placed on judges rather than local governments, this likely would not be considered a state-reimbursable mandate.