Articles Posted in Sentencing Enhancements

Many people in California have wondered whether SB620 or Senate Bill 620 is retroactive. Ultimately, prior to the passage of this bill local judges did not have discretion when it came to dismissing sentencing enhancements decided by prosecutors in regards to felony cases involving the use of firearms. Since the passage of SB620 in October of last year, judges are now able to determine or decide whether the sentencing enhancement given an offender who is convicted of a felony crime involving a firearm is proper or fitting to the case at hand. However, this still doesn’t meet many individuals’ definitions of equality.

Enhancements in these types of cases meant those convicted may be sentenced to an additional ten or 20 years in prison, or even a life term depending on the circumstances of the case. While the new law does not give judges permission to completely do away with enhancements altogether, it does give judges at the local level the discretion to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the enhancement given an individual should be shorter or longer depending on the circumstances and facts of the crime. In simple terms, a judge may make the decision as to whether an offender who was given a 20 year sentence enhancement should have perhaps been given a ten year enhancement instead, or even life in prison in extremely serious felony cases involving the use of a firearm.

So is SB620 retroactive, meaning those who have received sentencing enhancements for felony crimes involving a firearm prior to the passage of this bill are eligible to have their enhancements reexamined? Yes, in situations where an offender’s sentence is enhanced by 20 years or a life term. While you may be eligible for less harsh sentencing enhancement, resentencing is generally reserved for those who have committed what are considered less serious felony offenses such as drug possession or low level theft. Not everyone has the opportunity to reduce an enhanced sentence, particularly those who have been found guilty of what are considered extremely serious or heinous crimes. Do all felons have access to equal protection? This is a question many criminal defense attorneys have pondered, and one that may be vigorously contested in the future.

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.