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California’s Progressive Criminal Justice Reforms Explained by a Criminal Appeals Lawyer

In recent years, there has been widespread recognition of the harms that come from over incarceration. Whether it be due to improper policing or overly punitive sentencing schemes, the current criminal justice system does not strike a fair balance between protecting society from harm and focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders. California lawmakers are among the first to implement significant policy changes to address these concerns.

Over the past few years, California has implemented a slew of criminal justice reforms designed to fix what many are finally recognizing is a broken system. Below are a few of the most notable reform policies.

Special Directives

Recently, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County, George Gascon, issued a set of “special directives” focused on creating a fairer criminal justice system. The special directives are broad in scope and address a wide range of problems with the current system. For example, the special directives address pre-trial incarceration, police misconduct, sentencing enhancement, youthful offenders, and established a “conviction integrity unit” that provides for the review of previously obtained convictions.

AB 1509

Gun crimes bring along some of the most significant penalties, even for mere possession of a firearm. Part of the problem when it comes to the inequities of gun sentencing laws stems from duplicative punishment. For example, under the current system, a person found guilty of using a gun during the commission of a crime would face punishment for the underlying crime, possession or use of the gun, as well as a sentencing enhancement for having or using a gun while committing a crime. Recently California lawmakers proposed AB 1509, which would drastically reduce sentencing enhancements for gun crimes.

SB 81

Recently, State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced Senate Bill 81, which focuses on limiting the use of sentencing enhancements in a wide range of offenses. According to Skinner, sentencing enhancements are overused by the courts. She explained that sentencing enhancements “should be used judiciously, and only when the enhancement is necessary to protect the public.” For example, SB 81 would prevent courts from applying an enhancement if a conviction was more than five years old or related to an offense committed when the defendant was a juvenile.

SB 300

Senate Bill 300, recently proposed by State Senator Dave Cortese, would address what is undoubtedly an unfair loophole left by SB 1437. SB 1437 provided a mechanism for inmates who were convicted of felony murder but were not involved in the actual killing. However, SB 1437 does not apply to those who acted with “reckless indifference to human life.” SB 300 would close this loophole, allowing those serving life sentences for certain murder offenses to be eligible for parole.

To be sure, California lawmakers are beginning to recognize that an overly punitive criminal justice system is not only unfair but also can have a negative impact on society. While these bills are not yet law, should they pass, they could lead a nationwide shift to a fairer criminal justice system.

Are You Serving a Lengthy Prison Sentence?

If you are currently serving a life sentence or other long prison sentence for a California crime, contact Attorney Matthew Barhoma at Barhoma Law. Attorney Barhoma is an experienced California post-conviction attorney dedicated to ensuring his clients receive the benefit of recently passed legislation that provides for the review of convictions and sentences. To learn more, call 213-800-7664 to schedule a free consultation.

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