Recent California Criminal Law Changes

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The most recent session of the California Legislature has yielded a number of new or amended laws session In recent weeks, Governor Brown has signed a number of new or amended laws related to crimes and criminal penalties. We have provided a summary of each law, with its Bill number, below.

HIV Criminal LawPenalties For Knowingly Exposing Sexual Partner to HIV.

Senate Bill 239 reduces the potential penalty for an individual who has tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) to expose a sexual partner to the virus. Currently, this offense is a felony, punishable by up to eight years imprisonment. As of January 1, the crime will become a misdemeanor, with a maximum possible punishment of six months in jail, which is also the maximum for knowingly exposing another person to other serious communicable diseases.


Donating HIV-infected blood with knowledge of its condition will also be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.


According to a co-author of the legislation, its intent is to reflect advances in the treatment of AIDS and other HIV-related diseases and associated changes in social attitudes.


Recording Certain Confidential Communications 

Subject to some existing exceptions, it is a crime in California to deliberately eavesdrop electronically or record a confidential communication without the consent of all parties to that communication. AB 413 would add exemptions for persons who record communications in order to obtain evidence of domestic violence. Victims seeking a domestic violence restraining order may also record for evidentiary purposes specified communications from the alleged abuser.

Detaining Immigrant Witnesses to Crimes 

Under current law, a peace officer may not detain an individual suspected of an immigration law violation not charged with any other crime if that person witnessed or can otherwise provide evidence in a hate crime investigation. AB 493 adds a similar prohibition, in the absence of an arrest warrant,  regardless of whether the crime witnessed or in which the person may otherwise give evidence is a hate crime.

Criminal Record Expungement

Currently, a defendant who pleads guilty or nolo contendere to a felony and who is sentenced to a county prison sentence may, after serving that sentence and subject to other conditions, petition the court to allow him or her withdraw his or her earlier plea and enter a plea of not guilty. AB 1115 extends this option to persons who were sentenced to state prison despite being eligible for imprisonment in the county.

Murder of Police Officers

AB 1459 does not purport to enact or amend any law. Rather, it states the California Legislature’s declaration that existing law requires any and all unlawful killings of on-duty police officers that are willful, deliberate, and premeditated are to be treated as murder in the first degree.

Grand Jury Testimony

In general, a testimony of witnesses before a grand jury is confidential. A current exception permit (but does not require) the court which empaneled the grand jury to allow disclosure of a transcript of witness testimony if the grand jury did not issue an indictment. AB 1024 creates a new exception that makes such disclosure mandatory when the alleged offense involves a peace officer’s use of excessive force resulting in the death of a person detained or arrested. The court may decline to order disclosure only if it determines that there an overriding interest will be prejudiced by disclosure.

Author Photo

Kerry L. Armstrong


Attorney Kerry Armstrong opened up his law firm in June 2007. Mr. Armstrong attended Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego, California, and received his B.S. from Middle Tennessee State University. Kerry L. Armstrong became certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization for criminal law in August 2020, making him one of the few criminal defense attorneys with a criminal law legal specialization certificate in San Diego County.  Between 2014 – 2019, Mr. Armstrong was selected for inclusion in the California Super Lawyers list, an honor only awarded to 5% of the nation’s attorneys.

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