Articles Tagged with sentencing enhancements

On January 1, 2018, SB 180 went into effect and repealed the prior California law, which required a sentencing court to impose a 3-year enhancement for every prior conviction for controlled substance crimes.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that have served their base sentences and any other enhancements, and who are currently serving time based on the repealed enhancements, and until July 1, 2022, to identify all other individuals.

Many people in California have wondered whether SB620 or Senate Bill 620 is retroactive. Ultimately, prior to the passage of this bill local judges did not have discretion when it came to dismissing sentencing enhancements decided by prosecutors in regards to felony cases involving the use of firearms. Since the passage of SB620 in October of last year, judges are now able to determine or decide whether the sentencing enhancement given an offender who is convicted of a felony crime involving a firearm is proper or fitting to the case at hand. However, this still doesn’t meet many individuals’ definitions of equality.

Enhancements in these types of cases meant those convicted may be sentenced to an additional ten or 20 years in prison, or even a life term depending on the circumstances of the case. While the new law does not give judges permission to completely do away with enhancements altogether, it does give judges at the local level the discretion to determine on a case-by-case basis whether the enhancement given an individual should be shorter or longer depending on the circumstances and facts of the crime. In simple terms, a judge may make the decision as to whether an offender who was given a 20 year sentence enhancement should have perhaps been given a ten year enhancement instead, or even life in prison in extremely serious felony cases involving the use of a firearm.

So is SB620 retroactive, meaning those who have received sentencing enhancements for felony crimes involving a firearm prior to the passage of this bill are eligible to have their enhancements reexamined? Yes, in situations where an offender’s sentence is enhanced by 20 years or a life term. While you may be eligible for less harsh sentencing enhancement, resentencing is generally reserved for those who have committed what are considered less serious felony offenses such as drug possession or low level theft. Not everyone has the opportunity to reduce an enhanced sentence, particularly those who have been found guilty of what are considered extremely serious or heinous crimes. Do all felons have access to equal protection? This is a question many criminal defense attorneys have pondered, and one that may be vigorously contested in the future.

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