Articles Posted in Criminal Conviction

What is a pardon – Eligibility and Benefits

The effects of a criminal conviction do not end once an individual has served their sentence. In fact, the consequences of a criminal conviction can last forever and can impede the rest of a person’s life. Fortunately, the California Constitution gives the governor the power to grant clemency in the form of a sentence commutation or a pardon. While a commutation is directed at people who are still serving a sentence, a pardon is designed to reward people who have shown that they have been fully rehabilitated after serving their sentence for a criminal conviction.

In general, anyone who had been convicted and has completed his or her probation or parole for a California state criminal offense can apply for a Governor’s pardon. The only exceptions are for individuals who have been impeached, as well as those convicted for crimes in other jurisdictions or for federal crimes.

What’s Commutation – Eligibility and Benefits

For the past few decades, California has been known for its tough-on-crime policies and its extremely harsh sentences. Fortunately, the California Constitution gives an individual the right to seek a commutation of sentence. Commutation is a form of clemency that the governor has the authority to grant and is an important form of post-conviction relief. In short, commutation is a reduction or a termination of a sentence.

Almost anyone who has been convicted of a state criminal offense can apply to have their sentence commuted, with the only exception being for individuals that have been impeached. Notably, commutation applies only to state crimes, and the governor lacks the power to commute sentences for convictions in another state or country, or for federal or military offenses.

History of California’s Three Strikes Law

In 1994, Californians voted overwhelmingly for Proposition 184 and enacted the “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law, which was later codified by Penal Code §667. The goal of the new law was to increase public safety and to reduce the crime rate by giving repeat offenders harsher sentences. In its original version the law required that the sentence for any felony committed by a defendant with one prior serious or violent felony conviction be doubled, and imposed a sentence of 25 years to life to any person for any felony, if the person had two prior convictions for serious or violent felonies.

In the years since its inception, the Three Strikes law has had a devastating effect on thousands of defendants. The law has led to mass incarceration and has disproportionately affected people of color, as well as the mentally ill and physically disabled defendants. Moreover, while the financial cost to the taxpayers has been exorbitant, research has shown that the extreme sentences have had little to no effect on the reduction of crime rates.

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.

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