Special Circumstances Conviction Project

In Collaboration With:

The Special Circumstances Conviction Project (SCCP) analyses the prevalence and impact of the use of special circumstances in criminal sentencing in California. Under California law, “special circumstances” delineate the conditions under which people can be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Despite the severity of the sentence and its impact on California’s communities, there has been to date no comprehensive collection or analysis of what specific convictions have led to over 5000 people serving LWOP, nor how race, age, gender, and other factors may affect the sentences they receive.

Initiated by Joanne Scheer, co-founder of the Felony Murder Elimination Project, and Daniel Trautfield, Drop LWOP policy analyst and organizer, SCCP collects and analyses data gleaned through Public Records Act Requests and disseminates findings to legislators, policymakers, non-governmental organizations, scholars, and impacted communities.

SCCP Research Team:

Joanne Scheer

Joanne Scheer is the founder of the Felony Murder Elimination Project, a growing group of concerned citizens whose goal is the elimination of the felony murder rule from California law. When her only child was convicted under the felony murder rule and sentenced to the death sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, she began the work of bringing an end to one of the most heinous of California’s laws. While striving to eliminate the felony murder rule, Felony Murder Elimination Project also endeavors to bring relief to those who are serving harsh and manifestly disproportionate sentences imposed by the rule’s application. With nothing but the resolve to eliminate a law that so easily and unjustly sentences youth to death, she sponsored Assembly Bill 2195 in 2016, co-sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 48 in 2017, and co-sponsored Senate Bill 1437 in 2018 which eliminated second-degree felony murder and the natural and probable consequences doctrine. She continues to fight for the elimination of first-degree felony murder and special circumstances. Joanne is also the author of a 2020 CSW Policy Brief on Felony Murder Special Circumstances.

Daniel Trautfield

Daniel Trautfield is an advocate for the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, through which he provides medical and legal support for incarcerated individuals in California prisons. He is an organizer for the Drop LWOP Coordinating and Legislative teams with a focus on special circumstance sentencing policy. Daniel co-founded SCCP with support from Californians United for a Responsible Budget, where he worked as a policy analyst and organizer.

Photo of Grace Hong

Grace Hong

Grace Hong is the current CSW Director and a Professor in the Department of Gender Studies and the Department of Asian American Studies. Her research focuses on women of color feminism as an epistemological critique of and alternative to Western liberal humanism and capital, particularly as they manifest as contemporary neoliberalism. Read her full biography.

Randall Akee

Randall Akee (Native Hawaiian) is an associate professor in the Department of Public Policy and American Indian Studies at UCLA. Previously, he served as a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Akee completed his doctorate at Harvard University in June 2006. Dr. Akee is an applied microeconomist and has worked in the areas of Labor Economics, Economic Development and Migration. He has conducted research on the determinants of migration and human trafficking; universal basic income programs on educational attainment, voting and obesity; and the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit on intergenerational mobility across race groups. He has conducted research on several American Indian reservations, Canadian First Nations, and Pacific Island nations in addition to working in various Native Hawaiian communities. Dr. Akee also spent several years working for the State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs Economic Development Division. He is a research fellow at the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development and serves on the University of California Office of the President’s Native American Advisory Council. Previously, he served on the National Advisory Council on Race, Ethnic, and Other Populations at the US Census Bureau. He has worked extensively with public-use and confidential-use Census Bureau data in his research. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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