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In 1994, through Proposition 184, California enacted the unduly harsh Three Strikes law, which was later codified by Penal Code 667. Under the Three Strikes law, a so-called repeat offender with one or more prior violent and/or serious felonies, would receive a harsher prison sentence for a subsequent qualifying felony conviction, with a defendant with two or more such prior convictions, receiving a mandatory sentence of 25 years to life. While the Three Strikes law has been widely criticized for leading to mass incarceration and for disproportionately affecting minorities and people of color, as well as for not having a significant impact on public safety, the law is still in effect and continues to have a severe impact on the lives of thousands of defendants.

Fortunately, in 1996, in the landmark case of People v. Superior Court (Romero), the California Supreme Court gave defendants a glimpse of hope when it held that a trial court, pursuant to section 1385(a) of the California Penal Code, may, on its own, and “in furtherance of justice” strike or vacate an allegation that a defendant has been previously convicted of a serious and/or violent felony.

In that case, the defendant, Jesus Romero, was charged with possession of 0.13 grams of cocaine. The offense by itself would have resulted in up to 3 years in prison. However, the prosecutor in the case also alleged that Romero had two prior “strike” convictions for residential burglary and for an attempted residential burglary, and under the new Three Strikes law, he was facing 25 years-to-life prison sentence for simple possession of narcotics.

In the last few years, California’s leaders have finally put the effort to improve the State’s criminal justice system and to course-correct its policies. One of the main principles of the criminal justice system is that the punishment has to fit the crime. However, during the 1990s, the California legislature actively pursued tough on crime policies and during that time enacted more than a hundred different sentence enhancements, which have added years to the prison terms of majority of inmates. The tough on crime policies and the aggressive laws enacted as a result, have not only distorted one of the most basic legal standards of the criminal justice system, but they have also had a devastating effect on thousands of inmates, on the state budget, and have disproportionately affected marginalized and minority communities.

In 2020, Governor Newsom commissioned the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code to thoroughly examine the California Penal Code and to issue recommendations for reform. When it came to sentence enhancements, overwhelming evidence was presented that their application has failed to improve public safety and has resulted in unnecessarily long incarcerations and inequity. Studies have shown that these enhancements, which are not elements of the crime and could result in double the time a person spends in prison, have been applied disproportionately to people of color and those suffering of mental illness. During testimony before the Committee, the former Governor Brown argued that California should abolish all enhancements or, at minimum, give judges better guidance on how and when they should be applied to avoid arbitrary use.

Prior to SB 81, while judges had the authority to dismiss sentence enhancements, they almost never did so, as the law provided them with no clear guidance. Even the California Supreme Court had noted that the standards used by judges are vague. As a result, based on the Committee’s findings and recommendations on the issue, SB 81 was passed and Governor Newsom signed it into law on October 8, 2021. SB 81 became effective on January 1, 2022. Senator Skinner, who introduced the bill, has said that “SB 81 sends a clear message to our courts: Let’s use sentence enhancements judiciously and only when necessary to protect the public.”

Thousands of people in California have been serving unjustly long sentences because they have been convicted of murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder, even though they never killed, attempted to kill, or intended for a person to die. Until January 2019, that was the reality for countless of inmates who had been convicted of murder under the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences theory for simply participating in certain crimes that had resulted in the death of a person.

In 2018, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1437, which amended the felony murder rule and allowed inmates convicted of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court to have their murder sentences recalled and to obtain resentencing for the underlying offense only. While advocates of criminal justice reform in California welcomed SB 1437, the law overlooked a substantial number of inmates, who had been convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder under the old theories and who were left ineligible to petition for resentencing under SB 1437.

Thankfully, the California legislature corrected this colossal oversight, and on October 5, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 775, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. By giving inmates convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter under the old doctrines the life-changing opportunity to petition the court for recall and resenting, SB 775 closed the gap that SB 1437 had left open.

On January 1, 2018, SB 180 went into effect and repealed the prior California law, which required a sentencing court to impose a 3-year enhancement for every prior conviction for controlled substance crimes. The only exception left was in instances where the prior convictions were for crimes that involve the use of a minor in the commission of the crime. Similarly, prior to January 1, 2020, the law required that a sentencing court impose a 1-year enhancement for each prior prison or felony jail term. Starting January 1, 2020, the SB 136 law limited the application of this enhancement to defendants who had served a prison term for a sexually violent offense.

While criminal justice reform advocates had welcomed these laws, criticism remained, as the laws did not apply retroactively. SB 483 or The Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act corrects that by applying SB 180 and SB 136 retroactively. Governor Newsom signed SB 483 into law on October 8, 2021, which went into effect on January 1, 2022. This law is the latest attempt by the California legislature to correct the harm caused by unjust and disproportionately long sentences. It has long been argued that long sentences cause more harm than good, as they have been proven ineffective as deterrents to crime, and have had negative impact on the well being and safety of defendants and communities alike. As the Legislature specifically states in the new bill, the goal of the RISE Act is to address systemic racial biases in sentencing and to ensure equal justice under the law.

Under the new law, inmates do not have to petition the court for resentencing. Instead, the new law requires that the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) identify all incarcerated individuals serving sentences that include one of those enhancements. CDCR had until March 1, 2022, to identify all individuals that have served their base sentences and any other enhancements, and who are currently serving time based on the repealed enhancements, and until July 1, 2022, to identify all other individuals.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and within the US, California hosts the second largest prison population behind Texas. Mass incarceration has led to overcrowding, which in turn has resulted in increased health risks and decreased psychological welfare of inmates. In recent years, California’s legislature has worked hard to correct the devastating results of the state’s traditional tough on crimes policies, which have led to excessively punitive sentences and have affected and continue to affect poor people and minorities disproportionately. Long sentences have not only failed to increase public safety, but have also had a damaging effect on vulnerable individuals, especially those who have committed their offenses as minors.

In 2018, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2942, which went into effect on January 1, 2019. Prior to AB 2942, there were no legal vehicles for district attorneys to revisit and re-evaluate sentences and, when warranted in the pursuit of justice, to recommend a sentence recall and reduction. Nowadays, due to AB 2942, local district attorneys have been given the discretionary power to revisit cases to determine whether the further confinement of inmates facing overly prolonged incarceration is in the interest of justice, and if it is not, to recommend a case for resentencing.

AB 2942 does not provide for any exclusions. That means that cases involving any type of offense or sentence are potentially eligible for recommendation for recall of a sentence. Furthermore, the law does not provide for any requirements of time served. Notably, this law could potentially provide relief for immigrant defendants facing immigration consequences based on their sentences, by having them reduced to non-deportable ones.

The “DREAM Act,” first introduced into Congress in 2001, was intended to grant United States citizenship to immigrant children at risk of deportation. The Act stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, and the children it would protect are often called “Dreamers.” The idea behind “Dreamers” is based on the “American dream.” By offering the American dream to so many individuals who spent part of their childhoods in the United States, they will have opportunities they may not otherwise have in their home countries. Although several bill versions have been introduced in Congress, the DREAM Act has never fully passed or become law.

2021 Versions Of The Bill

For the 2021-2022 legislative session, both the House of Representatives and Senate have introduced versions of the DREAM Act. The Senate introduced The Dream Act of 2021 (S. 264), and the House of Representatives introduced The Dream and Promise Act of 2021 (H.R. 6). The current version of the bill has passed in the House of Representatives. The bills differ, but their significant elements are generally the same. Both bills ultimately provide Dreamers an easier pathway to U.S. citizenship.

If you plan to visit the United States but do not intend to live within the county permanently, you will still need documentation authorizing your presence in the country. A visa is a type of authorization that grants nonimmigrant travelers the ability to remain in California and the United States for a brief period. Visas do not give foreign workers legal residence status or citizenship in the United States. However, they provide employment opportunities in the United States that workers may not have in their home countries.

Types Of Employment Visas For Nonimmigrants

There are several employment visas for nonimmigrants, two of which include H-1B and H-2B visas. Unlike other visas, employment visas require employers, rather than foreign employees, to submit applications and complete a considerable amount of paperwork. Immigration law is known for being very complex, but the immigration attorneys at The Justice Firm have the experience to help employers file the correct paperwork the first time.

If you plan to visit the United States but do not intend to live within the county permanently, you will still need documentation authorizing your presence in the country. A visa is a type of authorization that grants nonimmigrant travelers the ability to remain in the United States for a brief period. Visas do not give legal residence status or citizenship to visitors. However, they provide travelers many of the same opportunities as U.S. citizens to experience the United States.

Types Of Visas For Nonimmigrants

There are several types of visas for nonimmigrants, two of which include B-1 and B-2 visas. Both visas allow travelers to lawfully remain for up to six months in the United States.

On February 24, 2022, Russia declared an invasion of Ukraine, leading many leaders worldwide to welcome Ukrainians into their countries. The United States has several options available for Ukrainians who currently live in the United States and want to avoid returning to Ukraine. They include

  • Temporary Protected Status (“TPS”);
  • Asylum;

If you are living in California on a visa, as a permanent resident, or you are undocumented, a criminal charge or conviction can have severe consequences on your immigration status. However, some crimes minimally impact immigration status. Suppose you have been charged with a crime in California. In that case, it is essential to speak with a qualified immigration attorney who can explain how your immigration status will be impacted if you are convicted.

The Importance Of Hiring A Criminal And Immigration Law Attorney

Your California criminal conviction can directly impact whether you are deported and whether you can return to the United States in the future. Hiring an attorney with a strong understanding of federal and state criminal and immigration laws can significantly improve the outcome of your particular situation.

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