Recent Changes To Sentencing Enhancements In California

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.

While SB 1393 is not retroactive, along that bill, the California legislature also passed AB 2942, which, just like SB 1393, went into effect on January 1, 2019. Prior to AB 2942, district attorneys had no way of revisiting sentences or recommending a sentence recall and reduction. However, the new law granted district attorneys the discretionary power to revisit cases and determine whether further incarceration is actually in the interest of justice. If a district attorney decides to make a recommendation, it is then within the discretionary power of the court to decide whether to grant a recall hearing. Under the law, the court has the authority to look at a wide range of factors, including post-conviction factors and any new laws that have been passed, including laws invalidating certain enhancements.

In addition, in 2021, the state legislature passed SB 81, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. This bill instructs courts to give great weight to mitigating evidence presented by a defendant, and to dismiss an enhancement if it is in the furtherance of justice. The bill specifically lists nine mitigating circumstances, which if present, should weigh heavily in favor of striking an enhancement. Moreover, the new law instructs judges that the list is not exhaustive, and that the courts retain the authority to strike an enhancement whenever it will be in the interest of justice. While SB 81 is not retroactive, courts can apply it in all cases that come before them for resentencing purposes.

At the Justice Firm we believe that it’s very important to work with a reliable and experienced attorney who specializes in post-conviction matters. We know that the attorney-client relationship is an important aspect of your legal journey and our highly skilled attorneys are here to help and answer any questions you might have.

If you or a loved one is serving a lengthy prison sentence and have questions about any of the above laws, or if you think that these or any other new laws could impact your case, contact our California appeals attorneys today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.

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