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Victor McClinton murder generates realignment controversy

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On December 25, 2012 in Pasadena, Victor McClinton, a respected youth intervention worker and a longtime L.A. Sheriff's Department employee, died in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. 

His death - and the way it happened - struck Pasadena hard. McClinton, a Watts native, was  known for taking great care of the kids he coached at The Brotherhood Community Youth Sports League. On Saturday about 500 mourners including L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca turned out for his funeral. 

Prosecutors have charged 20-year-old Larry Darnell Bishop, who police say is a known gang member, with murder and attempted murder in the case. With Bishop's arrest,  McClinton's death became one of several local crimes that have generated questions about the state's prison realignment program.

In an article over the weekend in the Pasadena Star-News, Caroline Aguirre - a retired parole agent who's criticized prison realignment - pointed out that the man police say killed McClinton had three prior felony convictions including one for a July 2011 assault. If AB 109, the state's prison realignment law, were not in effect, she says, Bishop may have been in prison, or at least under the supervision of state parole agents. Either situation, she contends, could potentially have prevented the alleged murder.  

"What-ifs?" like that have plagued AB 109 since it went into effect in October 2011. There are no easy answers to those questions - certainly not in Bishop's case.

Regardless of his guilt or innocence, where would Bishop have been on December 25  if not for AB 109? There are a few variables. 

San Bernadino County Superior Court records indicate that Bishop pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon (not a gun) after a July 2011 incident. State prison records say that at the time, he'd been out of state prison for about 2 months after he'd served a year on a burglary charge. When he committed the assault, Bishop was on state parole. 

Under AB 109, prosecutors charged that assault as a new crime, not a parole violation. According to San Bernardino Sheriff's Department records, Bishop, from the time he was arrested, served 9 months in the county jail before being released in May 2012.

Pre-AB 109, Bishop more than likely would have likely gone back to prison for the assault. But this is where things get really complicated. Pre-AB 109, courts charged a lot of new crimes like this one as parole violations instead of new crimes, a practice the law eliminated. (See this 3-year federally funded study. The authors found that 65 percent of California's parole violations were for new crimes.)

That means Bishop may very well have served a standard three months in prison for a parole violation, meaning he'd have been out in October 2011. Assuming that he didn't commit a new crime (which apparently he didn't) or a parole violation (which we don't know whether he did) before February 2012, he would have been discharged from parole. 

Pre-AB 109, if prosecutors would have charged this new crime instead of choosing the option to quickly and trial-lessly return him to prison, Bishop may or may not have pleaded guilty to the charge. But if convicted, he'd have likely served prison time, followed by a parole period (and potentially additional stints in prison for parole violations) that could have lasted until the time of McClinton's murder.

To add another "what-if" wrinkle: the assault charge, under California's post-AB 109 penal code, is what's called a "wobbler." That means that if prosecutors had charged Bishop with a gang enhancement or second crime along with the assault, or if he'd used a firearm, he likely would have gone to prison instead of jail. Alternatively, if his plea agreement had included post-release supervision, the county probation department would have supervised him after his release from jail, but it didn't. 

With or without AB 109, it's possible - but not likely - that Bishop would have been on state parole supervision on December 25, 2012, when police say he killed an innocent bystander named Victor McClinton while trying to shoot a gang rival.

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