California Law and How Senate Bill 620 Changes Things When it Comes to Sentencing Enhancements

On October 11 California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill sponsored by the ACLU of California into law that will impact sentencing for felons convicted of crimes in which a firearm was used. Is the new law a good thing or a bad thing? It really depends on your own opinion. According to some reports law enforcement leaders feel Senate Bill 620 will only result in additional gun violence, however Senator Steve Bradford, author of the bill, says it’s really about justice.

Bradford said in a statement that “No one disputes that crimes involving firearms must be taken seriously, but California should not continue forcing judges to dole out extreme and overly punitive sentences that don’t fit the crime.” Bradford feels that judges should be afforded the same discretion at sentencing that prosecutors are afforded when filing criminal charges, and that California’s “overly punitive” sentencing laws disproportionately affected people of color.

Prior to signing Senate Bill 620 into law, judges were prohibited from dismissing or striking a firearm sentence enhancement for offenders who committed felony offenses involving firearms. If an individual was arrested for a criminal offense involving a gun, certain enhancements were added to the charges which were mandatory. Ultimately, this meant someone convicted of the charges could face a substantially longer prison term, sometimes decades longer. This new law gives judges the power to determine punishment, taking away prosecutors’ power to determine enhancements.

Police have also entered into the debate surrounding this new law; according to Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, state lawmakers don’t realize the impact this new law has on communities in California. Dyer claims “certain” individuals are out of touch with local communities, and these same individuals are creating laws that contribute to a weakened criminal justice system.

Prior to Senate Bill 620 being signed into law judges had no power when it came to firearms sentencing enhancements which could mean an additional 10 or 20 years in prison, or even life. Under the new law, judges will be awarded the opportunity to review the facts of a case in order to make certain the punishment a convicted offender receives is suitable according to the defendant’s involvement in the crime and the severity/nature of the offense. However, the new law does not do away with firearm sentence enhancements, and according to Legislative Advocate Lizze Buchen of the ACLU of California is a vital step toward a justice system in California that is more fair and equitable. Buchen states that people of color have been subject to extreme sentencing enhancements for far too long, and that this harsh sentencing has not been successful in deterring crime, but has fueled “mass incarceration” or overcrowding of prisons.

It’s clear that there are very differing opinions when it comes to the new firearms enhancement law, what do you think?