Criminal Justice

Criminal Justice: 1991

Los Angeles police officers are caught on video beating motorist Rodney King, drawing world-wide condemnation. An independent commission on the Los Angeles police, headed by Warren Christopher, recommends reforms and that chief Daryl Gates resign.

Federal judge William Orrick judge rules in Blair v. Shanahan that California’s law banning the solicitation of alms violates the federal constitution.

Criminal Justice: 1992

Robert Alton Harris is the first person to be executed in California since 1967.

A jury in Simi Valley finds all four officers charged with crimes related to the beating of Rodney King not guilty of all charges. Riots erupt in Los Angeles lasting 3 days, resulting in 58 deaths, more than 2,300 people injured, and property damage of approximately $800 million. An independent commission, headed by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster, investigating the riots concludes that the police department’s slow response to the violence was attributable “first and foremost to the performance of the chief of police and his command staff.”

Los Angeles voters amend the city charter to adopt the reforms recommended by the Christopher Commission, including limiting a police chief’s tenure and creating a system to track problem officers.

Officers accused of beating Rodney King are tried in federal court for violating King’s civil rights. Two are found guilty.

Criminal Justice: 1994

Voters pass the "Three Strikes" initiative mandating a life sentence for any felony committed by a person with two previous convictions for a serious or violent felony. This and other "tough on crime" initiatives, combined with the federal "war on drugs," results in a surge in California’s prison population.

Federal judge Marilyn Hall Patel rules in Fierro v. Gomez that California's gas chamber is "cruel and unusual" punishment in violation of the U.S. Constitution and orders the state to shut the gas chamber down. The state changes the method of execution to lethal injection.

Criminal Justice: 2001

Prison Law Office files lawsuits charging that inadequate health care in California’s overcrowded prisons violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Criminal Justice: 2003

California Highway Patrol (CHP) reaches a settlement in Rodriguez v. California Highway Patrol, a 1998 class action lawsuit filed on behalf of African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans who believe they were stopped by highway patrol officers because of their race. The CHP agrees to ban pretext stops and racial profiling, and to collect data on the race and ethnicity of drivers stopped and searched.

Criminal Justice: 2008

After ruling in Kincaid v. Fresno that the city of Fresno’s practice of seizing and destroying the personal possessions of homeless residents violated their constitutional rights, federal judge Oliver W. Wanger approves a settlement in which the city contributes to an account for the homeless plaintiffs to meet housing-related costs, including security deposits, first and last month’s rent, or monthly rental payments.

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