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As a general matter, federal courts are forbidden to modify a sentence after it has been imposed. However, there are a few narrow exceptions to that rule. One such exception is Rule 35(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. This rule allows for a sentence reduction if the defendant has provided substantial assistance to the government in the investigation or prosecution of another person. Under Rule 35(b), upon a government’s motion made within one year of sentencing, a federal court is allowed to reduce a sentence if, after sentencing, the defendant provided substantial assistance. If the government brings a substantial assistance motion more than a year after sentence had been imposed, the court may reduce the sentence if the assistance involved one of the following:

  • The information provided to the government was not known to the defendant until more than one year after sentencing;
  • The information was given within one year of sentencing, but the information that was provided did not become useful to the government until more than a year after sentencing; or

In the last few years, the California legislature has made an effort to rectify the devastating results of the state’s traditionally tough on crime policies. The laws enacted during the tough on crime era resulted in exceptionally long sentences, mass incarceration, and overcrowding of prisons. At the same time, research has shown that not only has public safety not improved, but these laws have also had an especially devastating impact on disadvantaged communities.

AB 600 was signed into law by Governor Newsom on October 8, 2023, and came into effect on January 1, 2024. The new law provides changes to PC 1172.1 and expands the authority of judges to initiate resentencing. Prior to the enactment of AB 600, courts’ authority to recall a sentence was limited to 120 days following the date of commitment to state prison or county jail or with the recommendation of the district attorney or the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

Now, AB 600 allows courts to recall a sentence and initiate resentencing at any point in time, if the sentencing laws applicable at the time of sentencing have subsequently changed, including sentencing enhancement laws, strike laws, or any other sentencing rules.

In the last few years, numerous studies have shown that racial biases and discrimination have been widespread across California’s criminal justice system. It is undisputed that, in the last few decades, California’s tough on crime policies have disproportionately affected marginalized communities and people of color. For example, in its 2020 report, the Committee on the Revision of the Penal Code found that gang enhancements have been applied inconsistently and have disproportionately affected communities of color. Moreover, the report specifically states that in Los Angeles, 98 percent of people who received gang enhancements were people of color.

In 1987, in McClesky v. Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court limited courts’ ability to address systemic discrimination by requiring defendants to prove purposeful discrimination by more than statistical disparities. Unfortunately, the Court failed to recognize the reality that most systemic biases are unintentional and throughout the years have been more damaging than occurrences of outright racism. As a result, the decision by the Court left thousands of defendants without recourse.

Fortunately, as part of the ongoing effort to rectify the troubling and devastating effects that California’s laws and policies have had on minority communities and to redress the McClesky decision, in 2020, the State legislature passed AB 2542, which prohibited the state from seeking a conviction or a sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. Recognizing that AB 2542 did not go far enough, in 2022, the California legislature passed AB 256 or the Racial Justice Act for All. The new bill provided a staggered timeline for defendants with cases in which final judgment was entered before January 1, 2021, to seek relief. Moreover, AB 256 expands the type of evidence that defendants can present and requires courts to consider the totality of the evidence and not only statistical evidence.

One of the main principles of our criminal justice system is that the punishment has to fit the crime. However, in the 1990s, California’s leaders pursued very actively tough on crime policies and during that time more than a hundred different sentencing enhancements were enacted. Throughout the past three decades, these enhancements have added many years to the prison terms of majority of inmates. As a result, currently, California hosts the second largest prison population behind Texas.

Overwhelming evidence has demonstrated that sentencing enhancements have not been the successful deterrent to crime they were designed to be, but even more than that, they have failed to improve public safety and have resulted in unnecessarily long mass incarcerations and inequity. As a result, in the last several years, California’s leaders and legislatures have worked hard to correct the harm caused by unjust and disproportionately long sentences.   Some of the most important laws that were enacted include SB 1393, AB 2942, and SB 81.

SB 1393 or The Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act of 2018, reformed the law on one of the most commonly used sentencing enhancements in California, namely the 5-year enhancement given for each prior serious felony conviction when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. Prior to 2019, the law specifically prohibited judges from using their discretion to dismiss the 5-year enhancement for prior serious felony. That changed with the enactment of SB 1393. SB 1393 eliminated the mandatory application of the prior serious felony enhancement and allowed judges to use their discretion to strike the enhancement in furtherance of justice.

It is estimated that at least 70 million people in the United States have a record of an arrest or conviction. In California alone, an estimated 8 million people have to live with a criminal record, and in 2018, an estimated 2.5 million Californians of working-age had a felony record. These figures have cost the state approximately $20 billion in gross domestic product annually.

In California, an individual’s criminal record is kept until a person reaches 100 years of age, even though most people with a criminal record had long paid their debt to society. The effects of a criminal record have always been enormous, but this is truer then ever in today’s world where the use of background checks is more widespread than ever. As a result, a quarter of the state’s population is facing numerous barriers to building and having a decent life. The presence of a criminal record prevents people from entering certain careers, obtaining housing, long-term employment, and participating fully in civic life. Most notably, the consequences of a criminal record have historically affected minority communities disproportionately and have been a leading driver of recidivism and perpetual poverty.

For years now, California has been at the forefront of Criminal Justice Reform and has been adopting numerous measures in an attempt to rectify the effects of the tough on crime policies of the past. As part of the ongoing efforts to reform that the California policymakers have embarked on, and recognizing the devastating consequences a criminal record can have on a person’s ability to reintegrate into society, they passed SB 731. Governor Newsom signed the bill into law on September 29, 2022, and the bill became effective on July 1, 2023.

Despite the ongoing efforts by California’s leaders to improve the State’s criminal justice system and to make it fairer, California still has some of the most severe sentence enhancements in the United States.

One of the main principles of the criminal justice system is that the punishment has to fit the crime. Unfortunately, California’s hyper punitive policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s, resulted in a serious distortion of one of the most basic legal standards of the criminal justice system. By the end of the 1990s, California’s legislature had managed to enact more than one hundred different enhancements, which have added years to the prison sentences of majority of inmates. The State’s aggressive sentencing enhancement laws have led to mass incarceration, overburdening of the state’s budget, and most importantly, have disproportionately affected marginalized and minority communities and their economies.

There have been numerous studies on enhancements that have shown that adding time to an already lengthy sentence has not been a successful deterrent to crime and has not had a positive impact on public safety. In line with these studies, the California legislature has been working hard to enact laws that will prevent the application of indiscriminate sentence enhancements while still allowing judges to impose harsh and lengthy sentences when the conduct demands it.

The United States of America has the largest prison population in the world. Not only does the US have more incarcerated people than even China, but the United States account for roughly 25 percent of the world’s total prison population, and within the country, California ranks second behind only Texas.

The mass incarceration in California has not only caused prison overcrowding, but has also had a devastating impact on the State’s budget, as the annual cost per prisoner is over $100,000. The tough on crime policies of the 1990s have not only led to overcrowding of California’s prisons and a strain on the State’s budget, but they have also proved counterproductive and have had a detrimental impact on countless of inmates and their families, and have disproportionately affected marginal and minority communities.

Fortunately, in the last several years, California’s leaders have recognized than many of the State’s sentencing laws have not only failed to effectively serve their intended purpose of increasing public safety, but more than that, they have led to excessively punitive sentences, unnecessarily long incarcerations, and overall inequities.

In the last few years, California’s legislature has been at the forefront of enacting laws aimed at reforming the State’s criminal justice system and rectifying the injustices and the disproportionate effect that some of the State’s policies have had on marginalized and minority communities.

As part of the ongoing effort to fight the biases and racial discrimination that have been prevalent in our criminal legal system, in 2020, the California legislature passed AB 2542, or the Racial Justice Act, which came into effect on January 1, 2021. The law prohibited the state from obtaining or seeking to obtain a criminal conviction or imposing a sentence on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin. The landmark law was a step in the right direction and was welcomed by criminal justice reform advocates.

Prior to the passing of AB 2542, proving racial biases was almost impossible. In the 1987 decision McClesky v. Kemp, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed an unreasonably high burden on defendants to prove racism in criminal cases. In short, the Court required defendants to prove intentional discrimination and held that statistical disparities are not enough to show a constitutional violation.

In 1987, California passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act). The California legislature’s goal was to address the increasing criminal activities by street gangs and through the STEP Act it imposed a three-year sentencing enhancement for gang related crimes. Proponents of the law claimed that it would be applied narrowly and only in cases of serious and violent crimes and where the prosecution has clearly demonstrated a pattern of criminal activity. However, since its enactment, through legislation and court rulings, the severity of the STEP Act gang enhancements increased and their application broadened exponentially. The reality is that these enhancements have resulted in overly punitive and mandatory sentences for non-violent crimes and even misdemeanors, and in many cases have led to life sentences.

Needless to say, the end result of the STEP Act has been devastating and has caused an immeasurable damage to entire neighborhoods and communities. For defendants, a gang member designation can have a very negative impact through their entire interaction with the criminal system, including pretrial release, sentencing, incarceration, parole, reentry, and for non-citizens an almost guaranteed deportation.

In 2020, Governor Newsom commissioned the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code to examine the California Penal Code and to issue recommendations for reform. According to the Committee’s 2020 report, the STEP Act has been applied inconsistently and has disproportionately affected communities of color. Furthermore, the report pointed out that while between 2011 and 2019 California reduced its prison population, during the same period, the number of inmates who were serving gang enhancements increased by approximately 40 percent. Moreover, according to the report, in Los Angeles, more than 98 percent of defendants with gang enhancements were people of color.

Bullying has been a major problem for a long time and hundreds of thousands of children experience some form of bullying every single day. While public awareness of the prevalence of bullying is at all time high, the problem not only has not been eradicated, but in the era of social media, it has become more serious than ever.

Bullying can take many shapes or forms, and victims can be targeted due to their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or for a variety of other reasons. It is a form of violence, which can be physical; verbal, including making threats or inappropriate sexual comments; or social, including spreading rumors or disseminating hurtful material. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive, repetitive, and there has to be an imbalance of power.

While a significant part of society considers bullying a normal part of growing up, the reality is that it can have devastating consequences and lasting impact on children and teens. Some of the more serious effects of bullying include depression, anxiety, poor school performance, eating disorders, substance use, anger, isolation, and self-injury. More importantly, too many times, bullying has served as a catalyst for suicide, violence towards others, as well as homicidal ideas or actions.

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