District Attorney urges residents to divert passage of diversion law

District Attorney Tim Ward says AB 3234 would allow repeat DUI, child abuse, hate crime offenders to avoid serving jail time

TULARE COUNTY – After fighting to keep repeat offenders off the streets during the state’s $0 bail for most non violent crimes, Tulare County’s District Attorney is now fighting a new law that would continue to decriminalize serious misdemeanors.

Last week, DA Tim Ward sent out a message urging residents to contact Gov. Gavin Newsom and ask him not to sign Assembly Bill 3234. The bill would allow those arrested for misdemeanor crimes to enter diversion programs to avoid jail time. AB 3234 would apply to most misdemeanor prosecutions, including serious misdemeanors such as DUI, child abuse, and hate crimes. California currently allows eligible defendants to complete education and treatment courses instead of jail time such as drug diversion, mental health diversion and military or veterans diversion. Other misdemeanors included in the bill include vehicular manslaughter, elder abuse, child abuse, assault, carrying a concealed firearm, possession of a firearm in a school zone, criminal threats, and dissuading a witness. The bill also applies to repeat and violent offenders where prosecutors will no longer be able to allege prior diverted charges, such as a prior DUI or a firearms possession charge.

“This office is a strong supporter of diversion programs like drug, mental health, and veterans’ court when appropriate and with consideration of the victim. However, AB 3234 is another attempt by legislators to expand early release and decrease accountability,” Ward said. “This potential law ignores the danger posed by drunk or impaired drivers and sends the wrong message.”

Ward said his office has prosecuted well over 2,000 DUI cases each year since 2014. In 2019, Tulare County saw a significant increase in DUI cases investigated by law enforcement.

Ward said the number of vehicular deaths as result of alcohol or drugs has doubled in the past year alone. All but one of the cases had a prior DUI and prosecutors are allowed to use that prior to enhance punishment or charge a more serious crime. If the governor signs this bill into law, that ability could be dramatically impacted. The law as it stands now is barely a deterrent from engaging in such reckless behavior.

“Sending the message to would be drunk drivers that there might be zero accountability for this dangerous crime is horrendous,” Ward said. “That is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving opposes this new law.”

In addition, the bill would lower the age of “elder parole” from 60 to 50. Current law grants an inmate a parole hearing after turning 60 and having served 25 continuous years of a sentence. This bill would also reduce the time served to 20 years.

“If that isn’t reason enough to ask the governor to not sign this bill, our community needs to look no further than the quality of life crimes – theft, vandalism, and trespassing, which over the past few years have become the bane of our county’s small business owners.  Every single one of these types of crimes would be subject to diversion and no punishment. Be it COVID precautions, $0 bail, or the elements in this proposed bill, California is desperately intent on telling victims they have no voice. I urge our community to let Gov. Newsom hear your voice,” Ward concluded.

Residents can contact the governor’s office at 916-445-2841 or write to the governor at govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov40mail.

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