Articles Tagged with sentence enhancements

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

Empty Prison Cell
It’s no secret that many elements of the criminal justice system have imposed unfair prison sentences, especially enhancements that can add decades to the total time served in prison. This has led to overcrowded prisons, disproportionately affecting people of color and those suffering from mental illnesses.

Sentence enhancements are not related to the original crime, rather, they are add-ons based on how the crime was committed and the nature of the circumstances involving the crime. For example, using a firearm to commit a robbery can add anywhere between 10 and 20 years, while any association with organized crime could result in two to 10 more years in prison. The latter depends on the severity of the offense.

Like many aspects of the criminal justice system, there is a large degree of variation in how certain crimes are interpreted. For example, it is alleged that California’s current sentencing enhancement laws disproportionately affect people of color and those with mental illnesses. It is worth mentioning that judges have the legal ability to dismiss sentence enhancements, but they rarely do so.

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