Articles Tagged with resentencing

Thousands of people in California have been serving unjustly long sentences because they have been convicted of murder, manslaughter, or attempted murder, even though they never killed, attempted to kill, or intended for a person to die. Until January 2019, that was the reality for countless of inmates who had been convicted of murder under the felony murder rule and the natural and probable consequences theory for simply participating in certain crimes that had resulted in the death of a person.

In 2018, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 1437, which amended the felony murder rule and allowed inmates convicted of felony murder or murder under the natural and probable consequences theory to petition the court to have their murder sentences recalled and to obtain resentencing for the underlying offense only. While advocates of criminal justice reform in California welcomed SB 1437, the law overlooked a substantial number of inmates, who had been convicted of manslaughter or attempted murder under the old theories and who were left ineligible to petition for resentencing under SB 1437.

Thankfully, the California legislature corrected this colossal oversight, and on October 5, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law SB 775, which came into effect on January 1, 2022. By giving inmates convicted of attempted murder or manslaughter under the old doctrines the life-changing opportunity to petition the court for recall and resenting, SB 775 closed the gap that SB 1437 had left open.

On January 1, 2018, SB 180 went into effect and repealed the prior California law, which required a sentencing court to impose a 3-year enhancement for every prior conviction for controlled substance crimes. The only exception left was in instances where the prior convictions were for crimes that involve the use of a minor in the commission of the crime. Similarly, prior to January 1, 2020, the law required that a sentencing court impose a 1-year enhancement for each prior prison or felony jail term. Starting January 1, 2020, the SB 136 law limited the application of this enhancement to defendants who had served a prison term for a sexually violent offense.

While criminal justice reform advocates had welcomed these laws, criticism remained, as the laws did not apply retroactively. SB 483 or The Repeal Ineffective Sentencing Enhancements (RISE) Act corrects that by applying SB 180 and SB 136 retroactively. Governor Newsom signed SB 483 into law on October 8, 2021, which went into effect on January 1, 2022. This law is the latest attempt by the California legislature to correct the harm caused by unjust and disproportionately long sentences. It has long been argued that long sentences cause more harm than good, as they have been proven ineffective as deterrents to crime, and have had negative impact on the well being and safety of defendants and communities alike. As the Legislature specifically states in the new bill, the goal of the RISE Act is to address systemic racial biases in sentencing and to ensure equal justice under the law.

Under the new law, inmates do not have to petition the court for resentencing. Instead, the new law requires that the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) identify all incarcerated individuals serving sentences that include one of those enhancements. CDCR had until March 1, 2022, to identify all individuals that have served their base sentences and any other enhancements, and who are currently serving time based on the repealed enhancements, and until July 1, 2022, to identify all other individuals.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and within the US, California hosts the second largest prison population behind Texas. Mass incarceration has led to overcrowding, which in turn has resulted in increased health risks and decreased psychological welfare of inmates. In recent years, California’s legislature has worked hard to correct the devastating results of the state’s traditional tough on crimes policies, which have led to excessively punitive sentences and have affected and continue to affect poor people and minorities disproportionately. Long sentences have not only failed to increase public safety, but have also had a damaging effect on vulnerable individuals, especially those who have committed their offenses as minors.

In 2018, Governor Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 2942, which went into effect on January 1, 2019. Prior to AB 2942, there were no legal vehicles for district attorneys to revisit and re-evaluate sentences and, when warranted in the pursuit of justice, to recommend a sentence recall and reduction. Nowadays, due to AB 2942, local district attorneys have been given the discretionary power to revisit cases to determine whether the further confinement of inmates facing overly prolonged incarceration is in the interest of justice, and if it is not, to recommend a case for resentencing.

AB 2942 does not provide for any exclusions. That means that cases involving any type of offense or sentence are potentially eligible for recommendation for recall of a sentence. Furthermore, the law does not provide for any requirements of time served. Notably, this law could potentially provide relief for immigrant defendants facing immigration consequences based on their sentences, by having them reduced to non-deportable ones.

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