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The Breakdown of California’s New Sentencing Enhancement Laws

Over the past decade, California lawmakers have taken significant steps to improve the state’s broken criminal justice system. Lawmakers began to realize that decades of a “War on Drugs,” coupled with the state’s tough-on-crime stance, resulted in over-incarceration, mostly of Young Men of Color. However, given the recent sea change in the state’s sentencing enhancement laws, thousands of current inmates stand to have their sentences reduced. Below is a description of some of the most notable new sentencing enhancement laws over the past few years.

Senate Bill 180

Effective: January 1, 2018.

Notable Changes: Previously, if you were convicted of a drug trafficking offense, the judge could impose consecutive three-year enhancements for each prior drug trafficking offense. Under SB 180, only those prior offenses for using a minor to sell or possess certain types of drugs will be used to add these three-year enhancements.

Senate Bill 620

Effective: January 1, 2018

Notable Changes: Previously, if you were convicted of a crime and the prosecution proved that you used a gun, there were mandatory sentencing enhancements under Penal Code §§ 12022.5 and 12022.53. These were some of the most severe enhancements, ranging up to 25 years in some cases. SB 620 enables sentencing judges to use their discretion to strike enhancements under §§ 12022.5 and 12022.53 when doing so is in the “interest of justice.”

 Senate Bill 1393

Effective: January 1, 2019

Notable Changes: SB 1393 gives a sentencing judge the discretion to strike five-year enhancements for prior felony convictions under Penal Code § 667(1). Previously, these enhancements were mandatory.

Senate Bill 136

Effective: January 1, 2020

Notable Changes: Penal Code § 667.5(b) previously allowed a sentencing judge to add a one-year enhancement if you had previously been convicted of a crime resulting in a prison sentence. SB 136 eliminates all one-year prior prison term enhancements except for those convicted of sexually violent offenses as described in Welfare and Institutions Code § 6600(b).

Who Can Benefit from the New California Sentencing Enhancement Laws?

Each of the new laws only applies to those cases that were not final at the time the law went into effect. Determining when a conviction is “final,” however, is not always straightforward. However, as a general rule, if your case is still pending on appeal, or you are within the window of time where you can still file an appeal, a conviction is not yet final.

How to Benefit from the Recent Changes

The manner in which you can pursue relief under the new sentencing enhancement laws depends on where your case is in the process. If you have not yet filed an appeal, you can raise these issues on direct appeal in the California Court of Appeals. However, if your case is pending appeal or the court recently denied relief, you may need to file a writ of habeas corpus to get your case before the court. Regardless of your specific situation, time is of the essence, and you should reach out to a respected California criminal appeals lawyer for guidance as soon as possible.

Options for Those with “Final” Convictions

While none of these laws technically apply to anyone whose case was final at the time the law went into effect, there may still be remedies available. Penal Code § 1170(d)(1) allows you to petition the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) or the district attorney’s office to recommend to the court that your sentence be reduced. While neither the CDCR nor the district attorneys’ offices are required to make such a recommendation, they have indicated a willingness to do so when a change in the law would have resulted in a shorter sentence.

Contact a Renown California Criminal Appeals Lawyer for Immediate Assistance

If you or a loved one is serving a lengthy prison term, recent changes in the California sentencing enhancement laws may provide a way to obtain a reduced sentence. At Barhoma Law, we’ve had great success obtaining relief for inmates based on these changes. Over the past few years, we’ve secured the early release of several clients. To learn more, and to schedule a free case evaluation, contact Barhoma Law at 213-800-7664. You can also contact us through our online form.

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