Explaining SB 81 to Beginners

On December 15, 2021, the governor of California signed SB 81 into law to dismiss sentence enhancements in the interests of justice. This bill comes at the heel of widespread activism, drawing attention to the plight of convicts spending more time than necessary in jail or prison.

Studies show that sentence enhancements for long sentences do not deter crime. The number of separate sentence enhancements that a person could theoretically face when charged with a crime is about 150. This ranges from add-ons for gang association, being on probation, or having a prior conviction. Sentence enhancements are particularly concerning if you face criminal charges that include time spent in jail or prison, meaning more time spent incarcerated if convicted.

How Sentence Enhancements Work

Before rewarding a sentence enhancement, a judge will take a holistic look at the circumstances involving the crime to reward an appropriate sentence. Sentence enhancements are very prevalent in our justice systems. Nearly 80% of inmates serving a prison term have had their incarceration extended, with 25% of inmates serving extended sentences by at least three enhancements.

There is no clear advice on how judges carry out sentence enhancements or any guidelines on disregard enhancements. SB 81 was rolled out by California to provide more clear guidelines when enforcing sentence enhancements.

Thanks to SB 81, sentence enhancements would not be added for nonviolent crimes unless the judge deems it would endanger the public.

How SB 81 Improves Guidelines into Sentence Enhancements

SB 81 provides judges with greater clarity on how to issue sentence enhancements and requires them to look at the following circumstances:

  • If the conviction involved the use of a firearm or if it was nonviolent
  • A firearm was used but was unloaded or inoperable
  • Whether the sentence enhancement would have a negative racial impact on the accused
  • If the enhancement is being applied to a conviction that is over five years
  • If the defendant is struggling with mental health issues and underwent childhood trauma
  • The age of the defendant when the crime was committed (especially if they were juveniles)
  • If the total sentencing for a single offense is more than 20 years

The Impact of SB 81 and Getting Enhancements Dismissed

At the time of writing, thousands of inmates are currently serving a prison sentence that is enhanced. This is time they are spending away from society and their families. Sentence enhancements have played a significant role in overcrowding and disproportionally impacting people of color.

SB 81 can drastically reduce the lengths of prison terms and provides clear guidelines on how judges can impose sentence enhancements.

More importantly, SB 81 will restore the bedrock of the standard of justice in California, ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. However, judges retain the authority to impose sentence enhancements if they deem it necessary to protect public safety. In doing so, California joins the dozen other states that have reformed the use of sentence enhancements.

If you believe that you or someone you love qualifies for an enhancement dismissal, then 2022 is a good time as any. Judges are required to consider and provide great weight to evidence submitted by the defendant that proves mitigating circumstances. Successfully presenting one or more mitigating circumstances can increase the likelihood of dismissal if they are true to your case.

While this provides inmates with a great opportunity to provide mitigating circumstances, it can be much harder to disclose mental health or trauma-related issues.

Using SB 81 To Your Advantage

We understand that it can be hard to trust someone after hardship related to life-changing trauma.

This is why we believe that it’s very important to work with a reliable and experienced attorney who specializes in such cases. At Justice Firm, we know that the attorney-client relationship is an important aspect of your legal journey. We aim to give you peace of mind and sound guidance and the best legal representation.

If you believe that SB 81 could impact your case or the case of someone you love, contact our appeals attorneys today for a case evaluation. For more information about SB 81, call our attorneys in California at the law firm, Justice-Firm or click here.

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