Thursday, June 3, 2010
Governor Signs Bill to Reinstate Ban on Body Armor
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday signed urgency legislation reinstating a ban on the possession of body armor by violent felons.
SB 408, by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, had previously passed both houses of the Legislature without a dissenting vote.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley sought legislative sponsorship after this district’s Court of Appeal struck down the ban last December in People v. Saleem (2009) 180 Cal.App.4th 254, holding that Penal Code Sec. 12370 was unconstitutionally vague.
The court’s Div. Three reasoned that because the section incorporated the technical definition of body armor contained in a regulation requiring rigorous testing to establish that a particular vest will protect against specified ammunition, a person of ordinary intelligence would have no reasonable way of knowing if a particular vest met the stringent requirements necessary to qualify as body armor under the regulations.
This failure to provide fair notice “in terms that are meaningful to people of ordinary intelligence,” Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein said, offended due process.
SB 408 defines body armor as “any bullet-resistant material intended to provide ballistic and trauma protection for the person wearing body armor.” The new law also makes it possible to charge any person convicted of a violent offense who is later found in possession of body armor with a felony.
Cooley, in calling for the law, cited the 1997 North Hollywood shootout between police and two heavily armed and armored bank robbers.
The robbers engaged 350 Los Angeles Police Department officers for an hour, and first responders were unable to stop them until a SWAT team arrived with higher caliber weapons that were able to piece the robbers’ armor. Both robbers were killed, and 10 police officers and at least five other people were injured.
The legislation had broad backing from police and prosecutors. Los Angeles Police Protective League President Paul M. Weber yesterday issued a statement saying the law “is straightforward and provides a commonsense definition of body armor as ‘a bulletproof vest, meaning any bulletproof material intended to provide ballistic and trauma protection for the wearer.’”
Weber wrote that “the misguided decision by the Second District Court is immediately corrected and we now have an essential law in place to protect the safety of peace officers while they are performing their jobs.”
While the new law took effect immediately, the ability to prosecute earlier cases depends on what the Supreme Court does with Saleem, which the justices in March unanimously agreed to review. The high court last Thursday gave defendant’s attorney, Gerald Peters, until July 6 to file his answer brief.
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