Articles Posted in Alternative Sentencing Options

NEW LA COUNTY DA PROMOTING SWEEPING CHANGES (GEORGE GASCON)

On December 7, 2020, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon was sworn in as the County’s 43rd District Attorney. Following his defeat of Jackie Lacey, a DA who had built a reputation for a “tough-on-crime” approach, Gascon went straight to work making changes to his office true to his platform of criminal justice reform, progressive services, and rehabilitative prosecution. A main goal of his platform being lowering the prison population. 

Gascon’s less punitive approach to crime includes no more gang enhancements, eliminating cash bail (including no longer seeking bail for anyone facing a misdemeanor charge or non-violent or non-serious felony), ending use of the death penalty, and providing resentencing eligibility. These major changes are expected to lead to the early release of thousands of state prison inmates whom Gascon said are unfairly serving overly long sentences.

Facts About Prop 57: “The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act” of 2016

In November 2016, California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 57 (64% to 35%) to enhance public safety, stop the revolving door of crime by emphasizing rehabilitation, and prevent Federal Courts from releasing inmates.

Under Prop 57, CDCR incentivizes inmates to take responsibility for their own rehabilitation with credit-earning opportunities for sustained good behavior, as well as in-prison program and activities participation. Prop 57 also moves up parole consideration of non-violent offenders who have served the full-term of the sentence for their primary offense and who demonstrate that their release to the community would not pose an unreasonable risk of violence to the community. These changes will lead to improved inmate behavior and a safer prison environment for inmates and staff alike, and give inmates skills and tools to be more productive members of society once they complete their incarceration and transition to supervision. 

FELONY MURDER RULE RELIEF (SB 1437)

On September 30,  2018, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1437. SB 1437 became known as the Felony Murder Rule effectively changing the rules for how California charges felony murders.

Prior to SB 1437, California law allowed a defendant to be convicted of first-degree murder in the commission of a felony even if the defendant did not intend to kill the victim or did not know a murder took place. This means that in the commission of a residential burglary, for instance, if someone were killed as a result of the incident a getaway driver would be charged with and convicted or murder even if they had not stepped into the scene of the crime. This former broader law meant hundred of convictions of murder for individuals who never intended on seeing someone harmed in the commission of a felony act.

Governor Gavin Newsom and Inmate Releases Amid Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Since assuming office in January 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom has proven himself a firm proponent of broader criminal justice reforms. He has been supportive of bills to address prison overcrowding and rehabilitative/reentry measures for California prison inmates. 

Since the announcement of the California Major Disaster Declaration due to Covid-19 (Coronavirus) on March 22, 2020; much focus has been placed on prison sentence commutations and alternative sentences. Specifically when it comes to prison releases, within weeks of the emergency Governor Newsom had commuted sentences of 21 California prison inmates and granted pardons to half a dozen others. This includes over a dozen inmates convicted of homicides. As Coronavirus spreads into the prison system, the Governor’s office has taken immediate measures to reduce crowding and protect the population’s health.

How Long Can I File A Petition To Resentence Under Prop 47?

On November 4, 2014 California voters passed Proposition 47, known as the Criminal Sentences, Misdemeanor Penalties, Initiative Statute. This referendum – also called the Safe Neighborhoods and School Act – recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies. These offenses included crimes of theft, fraud, and drug possession.

The objective of Prop 47 was to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prison system and provide an opportunity for nonviolent offenders to obtain release and rehabilitation services. Monies saved as a result of Prop 47 would be allocated toward education and dropout prevention, mental health treatment, and drug abuse programs. All meant to keep offenders out of the prison system.

Any criminal defense attorney would agree that in America, the drug problem is huge.  Today, jails and prisons are overcrowded across the nation as America’s War on Drugs continues.  However, in recent months lawmakers, advocacy groups and the general public have realized that placing offenders guilty of non-violent drug crimes in prison and jail has resulted in negative repercussions.  Because of this, California and numerous other states have begun to reconsider the harsh punishment handed down to those less serious offenders.  As a result, there are various alternative sentencing options which individuals may be eligible for when charged with specified drug crimes.

In Los Angeles, marketing of illegal drugs is an especially profitable industry.  However, there is no question that illegal drug manufacturing and distributing leads to more serious criminal activity.  Drug abusers not only commit robbery and even murder in their quest to obtain illegal narcotics and other substances, lives are destroyed every day because of addiction.

The good news in all of this is that California has taken the necessary steps to change the policies which have long been in place regarding certain drug crimes.  In the past, lawmakers, police, and prosecutors were focused on one thing – making those who allegedly committed a drug crime, regardless of its seriousness, pay in the form of jail/prison time, steep fines, and other harsh penalties.  Now, many of the changes that have been made focus on helping those with drug addiction and/or abuse problems get the help they need to get back on a positive path, rather than punishment.  For those who qualify, Los Angeles County now offers alternative sentencing options for some drug offenses.

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