ROSEVILLE (CBS13) — It was intended to reduce the caseload for probation officers so they could focus on rehabilitating convicts and “to end wasteful spending,” but some say a new law is letting child sex predators off early – in some cases before they complete rehabilitation.
AB-1950, the probation reform bill that took effect this year, limits probation for misdemeanors to up to one-year, and for most felonies, up to two-years probation. There are exclusions for some of the most serious crimes, but as the law is being implemented, critics point to a loophole for crimes involving child predators.
One victim, we’ll refer to as Jane Doe, says her abuse began shortly after her stepfather died. Doe says her new soccer coach quickly stepped in to fill that father figure role.
“There was a lot of grooming,” Doe said. “He would drop every other person off before dropping me off.”
She says it started out innocently, but then things began to change.
“For me, it was a lot of fear that I would lose that father figure if I said anything,” Jane Doe said.
James Rhodes, 38, was charged last year with 24 felony counts – including sex with a minor, sodomy, and penetration with a foreign object. We’re concealing his victim’s identity.
“After every time he would say stuff like, you know, I still look at you as a daughter,” Doe recounted.
As part of a plea deal, Rhodes was ultimately convicted on five felony counts of sex with a minor. He was sentenced to one year in jail and five years probation.
But, under California law, he, like most convicted criminals, was only required to serve half his jail time due to a combination of time served and good conduct credits.
“Oftentimes as part of the plea deal, (we) maximize the amount of time that someone is supervised after they are released from custody,” explained Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire.
Gire says, in cases like this, district attorneys often negotiate for less time in jail and more on probation where they can watch convicted predators out in the real world to make sure they don’t re-offend and do complete rehabilitation.
“In this particular case, that was a very important thing that has now been taken away from us,” Gire said.
He’s referring to AB-1950, the probation reform bill that took effect this year limiting probation for misdemeanors to one-year and for most felonies to two years. The DA says the law will reduce probation for thousands of convicts in Placer County alone – including for Jane’s abuser, whose probation could now end three years early.
A scary thought for Doe.
“So for the next five years, at least I knew he would be watched and I would feel safe in that. But now they’ve taken it away,” Doe said.
The DA points to Jane’s case as just one example of a loophole in the law.
They say Rhodes got the maximum of five years probation and, as part of the plea, would only be added to the sex offender registry if he reoffended during that time. They didn’t know the law would change after they made that plea deal.
Thanks to the new law, he can now petition to terminate his probation after just two years and Gire says there is little they can do to stop it.
He points to another example: the high-profile case of CHP officer Patrick Cooney, who was sentenced to five years probation after being convicted on child pornography charges.
Court records allege he was found with graphic images of “prepubescent females engaged in sexual acts with adult males, including sexual intercourse and oral copulation.”
Despite two probation violations and opposition from the DA, Cooney’s probation was recently terminated early because of the new law.
“There are a number of offenses that should have been carved out because supervision is paramount,” Gire said.
Gire notes there are exemptions in the law for some violent crimes and grand theft where the new probation limits don’t apply. Crimes like domestic abuse, with minimum sentences, were also carved out of the law.
But crimes involving child sex predators, that may require treatment and extended supervision, were not carved out. Crimes like child pornography, communication with minor for immoral purpose and sex with a minor have now been reduced to two-years maximum probation.
The DA also argues that some cases of indecent exposure, “wet-reckless” reduced DUI charges and vehicular manslaughter charges also fall into this grey area that may require extended supervision or treatment.
“We have drastically reduced the amount of time that we can supervise people to ensure they complete their treatment and can be monitored to ensure that they don’t re-offend,” Gire said.
Arguments in support of the bill, outlined in the Senate Floor Analysis, point to evidence that treatment is most effective within the first 6 to 18 months, implying that longer probation periods are unnecessary.
“A robust body of literature demonstrates that probation services, such as mental healthcare and substance use disorder treatment, are most effective during the first six to eighteen months of supervision. A shorter probation term, allowing for an increased emphasis on rehabilitative services, would lead to improved outcomes for people on probation and their families.”
However, Gire says treatment programs often run 18 months or longer and many people don’t complete their treatment on the first attempt. He also notes that some programs take some time to get into, meaning that some people may never have to complete treatment – and some may now be off probation before treatment even beings.
“We just, frankly, lost the amount of time that we had to make sure people complete, successfully, the treatment that they were required to complete,” Gire said. “In a large number of cases, people will either not be able to begin their treatment or they won’t be able to successfully complete the treatment.”
Without the option of longer probation periods, Gire says one of their only tools may be longer jail sentences which are not ideal in cases like these because they don’t allow law enforcement to monitor offenders out in the real world where they have the opportunity to re-offend.
Jane Doe says the law doesn’t take victims into account.
“It’s really hard because it makes it seem like what he did wasn’t a big deal,” she said.
Jane feels the new law diminishes her pain and she says she’s worried – without supervision – that her abuser is more likely to re-offend.
“I don’t think that he, in his mind, really knows he is in the wrong,” Doe said.
The Placer County DA is now calling for an amendment to exclude crimes involving child sex predators from reduced probation.
“This law is a one size fits all approach,” Gire said. “And that just doesn’t fit in the criminal justice system. Every case is unique, every defendant is unique, every victim is unique.”
Rhode’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
The Association of Public Defenders, which supported the bill, and the bill’s author, State Senator Sydney Kamlager, both declined interview requests.
In a statement, Senator Kamlager said: “Countless Californians are shackled to probation— a system that has become predicated on fines and fees and the continual threat of incarceration. The intention (of the bill) was to return to a probation structure that puts rehabilitation programming over profit-making.”
Kamlager did not respond to questions about whether she would be open to amending the bill to address child sex predators.