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.