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.
One of the most commonly used sentence enhancement has been the California Penal Code §667(a), which is a 5-year enhancement given for each prior serious felony conviction when a person is currently charged with a serious felony. Prior to 2019, courts were mandated to add the 5-year enhancement and they were prevented from considering the specifics of a case, the seriousness of the offense, or the defendant’s history and other mitigating circumstances.
Penal Code §1385 states that a judge may dismiss an action in furtherance of justice, which provides judges with a broad discretion to strike enhancements. This allows judges to tailor a sentence to a particular case and defendant, which can help ensure that the given sentence is proportional to the conduct in question and eliminates mandatory and arbitrary sentences, which can only lead to unjust and discriminatory results. However, prior to 2019, the law specifically prohibited judges from using their discretion under PC 1385, when it came to the application of the 5-year enhancement for prior serious felony.
That changed with SB 1393, which came into effect on January 1, 2019. SB 1393 eliminated the mandatory application of the 5-year prior serious felony enhancement, and allowed judges to use their discretion under Penal Code §1385 to strike such enhancements in furtherance of justice. As a result of the enactment of SB 1393, judges are now allowed to consider the specific facts and the conduct of the defendant, as well as any mitigating circumstances or factors.
While the Fair and Just Sentencing Reform Act is not retroactive, along SB 1393, the California legislature also passed AB 2942, which amended Penal Code Section 1172.1 and allowed courts to accept recommendations from the district attorney of the county in which the defendant was sentenced, to recall and resentence a person.
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If you or a loved one is serving a lengthy prison sentence and have questions about this law, or if you think that this or any other new law 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.