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The Effect of SB 483 on California Sentencing Enhancements

SB 483 is a newly enacted law that will help resentence those sentenced of prison prior enhancements.

Over the past decade, California lawmakers have made tremendous strides towards a fairer and more equitable justice system. Largely, these efforts focus on undoing the draconian sentencing enhancement laws that were passed decades prior. For example, in 2019, California lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1393, giving judges the ability to strike the previously mandatory five-year sentencing enhancement for a prior serious felony conviction. Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 1393, judges lacked the ability to exercise discretion in handing down this enhancement, no matter how compelling the defendant’s individual circumstances.

In fact, many of the recent criminal justice reforms in California have been focused on allowing judges to use their discretion to strike previously mandatory enhancements. These mandatory enhancements often make up the majority of an inmate’s sentence, keeping them incarcerated for far longer than the prosecuted crime.

One of the most recent and significant sentencing laws to make its way through the system is Senate Bill 483 (SB 483). Like other recent reform measures, SB 483 targets sentencing enhancements.

What Is SB 483?

Senate Bill 483 takes the several other recent amendments and builds upon them. More specifically, SB 483 deals with enhancements under California Health and Safety Code Section 11370.2 (“Section 11370.2) and California Penal Code Section 667.5(b) (“Section 667.5(b)”). Both Section 11370.2 and Section 667.5(b) underwent significant changes in recent years; however, SB 483 extends relief to a much larger group of people.

The History of Section 11370.2

Section 11370.2 is a sentencing enhancement statute focusing primarily on drug crimes. Originally, Section 11370.2 provided:

Any person convicted of a violation of, or of a conspiracy to violate, Section 11378 or 11379 with respect to any substance containing a controlled substance specified in paragraph (1) or (2) of subdivision (d) of Section 11055 shall receive, in addition to any other punishment authorized by law, including Section 667.5 of the Penal Code, a full, separate, and consecutive three-year term for each prior felony conviction of, or for each prior felony conviction of conspiracy to violate, Sections 11351, 11351.5, 11352, 11378, 11378.5, 11379, 11379.5, 11379.6, 11380, 11380.5, or 11383, whether or not the prior conviction resulted in a term of imprisonment.

Effectively, this meant that anyone convicted of certain drug offenses was subject to a three-year enhancement for each prior qualifying drug offense. Primarily, the offenses that fell under Section 11370.2 were those involving selling, distributing, trafficking or manufacturing drugs. Further, the enhancement applied even if a previous conviction resulted in a sentence of probation. Needless to say, Section 11370.2, as originally phrased, resulted in thousands of Californians convicted of non-violent drug offenses receiving multiple enhancements for previous drug convictions.

However, in 2017, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 180 (SB 180). SB 180 drastically limited the situations in which a defendant was subject to the three-year enhancements of Section 11370.2. More specifically, SB 180 eliminated all enhancements the previously fell under Section 11370.2 except for in which the defendant enlisted the help of a minor. However, relief conveyed by SB 180 was not retroactive, meaning unless a case was currently on appeal or otherwise not “final,” a defendant could not qualify for a resentencing.

The History of Section 667.5(b)

Section 667.5(b) is a widely used sentencing enhancement statute that requires a sentencing court to impose an additional one-year enhancement for each prior separate prison term or county jail felony term served by the defendant for a nonviolent felony. However, in 2019, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 136 (SB 136), which eliminated a judge’s ability to use the one-year enhancement except in cases involving “sexually violent offenses.”

Again, however, SB 136 was not retroactive. Thus, only defendants whose convictions were not yet final could benefit from the new law.

The Retroactivity Problem of SB 180 and 136

Both SB 180 and SB 136 were huge strides forward in terms of criminal justice reform in California. However, each suffered a major limitation in that neither was retroactive. Generally speaking, a new law is not considered to be retroactive unless the legislature explicitly states that to be its intention. For example, in the 1965 case, In re Estrada, the court explained, “when there is nothing to indicate a contrary intent in a statute, it will be presumed that the Legislature intended the statute to operate prospectively and not retroactively. See 63 Cal.2d 740. Courts still rely on the reasoning first outlined in In re Estrada. See People v. Federico, 50 Cal.App.5th 318 (2020) (relying on In re Estrada, holding that Federico was not entitled to relief under Prop 57 and SB 1391 because his conviction was final at the time of the changes to the law).

Retroactivity is always an issue anytime there is criminal justice reform. However, this is especially alarming when dealing with severe sentencing enhancements. For example, under Section 11370.2 and Section 667.5(b), a defendant may be sentenced to a modest term of imprisonment for the instant offense but could face an overall sentence that is significantly longer due to the imposition of enhancements. Senate Bills 180 and 136 did nothing to address these inequities.

Who Qualifies for Relief Under SB 483?

The main thrust of SB 483 is straightforward—it is intended to provide resentencing hearings for anyone currently serving a sentence that is at least in part made up of a Section 11370.2 or Section 667.5(b) enhancement. The first section of SB 483 clearly explains “it is the intent of the Legislature to retroactively apply Senate Bill 180 of the 2017–18 Regular Session and Senate Bill 136 of the 2019–20 Regular Session to all persons currently serving a term of incarceration in jail or prison for these repealed sentence enhancements.”

How Does a Resentencing Hearing Under SB 483 Work?

Unlike other recent amendments that merely allow a judge to use their discretion to award a resentencing hearing, SB 483 goes a step further. By declaring qualifying enhancements under Section 11370.2 and 667.5(b) to be “legally invalid.” This means that judges and prosecutors cannot stand in a defendant’s way to a resentencing hearing.

Not only that, but legislators used strong language in SB 483 to create what appears to be a very effective sentencing review process. First, the Secretary of the CDCR and the count correctional administrator must “identify those persons in their custody currently serving a [sentence] that includes an enhancement described in subdivision (a) and shall provide the name of each person, along with the person’s date of birth and the relevant case number or docket number, to the sentencing court that imposed the enhancement.”

Clearly, this is a monumental job. However, lawmakers do not want the size of the task to interfere with the goals of the bill and include strict timeframes for when this must occur. Lawmakers understandably prioritize consideration of those who have served their base sentence, any other enhancements, and are only serving time based on Section 11370.2 or Section 667.5(b) enhancements. For these inmates, the CDCR Secretary and county correctional administrator must refer the inmate’s information to the sentencing court by March 1, 2022. Once a court receives an inmate’s referral, it has until October 1, 2022, to resentence the inmate under the new law.

For those who are still either serving their base sentence or another term of enhancement, the CDCR Secretary and county correctional administer must refer the inmate’s information to the court by July 1, 2022. At that point, the court has until December 23, 2023, to resentence the inmate.

Recap: Deadlines and Timeline for Resentencing Under SB 483

As such, to recap, here is a timeline for completing possible resentencing under SB 483:

  • March 1, 2022 – This is the date that the law outlines as the deadline for CDCR to identify individuals that served their base term and other enhancements first.
  • July 2, 2022 – This is the date that the law outlines as the deadline for CDCR to identify all other individuals that fall under this law.
  • October 1, 2022 - This is the date that the law outlines as the deadline for the Court to review each judgment for those inmates accordingly from the March 1, 2022 turnaround and are currently serving other enhancements
  • December 31, 2023 - his is the date that the law outlines as the deadline for the Court to review each judgment for all other individuals
How an Award-Winning Criminal Appeals Team Can Help Obtain SB 483 Relief

Anyone who qualifies for sentencing relief under SB 483 can greatly benefit from working with a respected California appeals lawyer. Although SB 483 makes clear that many inmates are entitled to a resentencing hearing, it does not necessarily mean that the court will modify the base sentence of any other sentencing enhancements that were applied. However, for many inmates, the laws have significantly changed for the better since their sentence, making them eligible—although not entitled—to relief. These laws, while very complex, provide several avenues of relief. With the assistance of a dedicated post-conviction lawyer, inmates can rest assured that they stand to benefit from all recent changes in the law since their original sentence.

It is important to keep in mind that, while there is technically nothing an inmate should need to do to have the court recall their case, it is better to be safe and contact an experienced California criminal appeals lawyer to ensure a case is handled properly.

The Unstated—But Critical—Benefits of SB 483

While SB 483 provides tremendous benefit to thousands of currently incarcerated inmates, it also serves another, potentially even more useful, purpose. When a court recalls an inmate’s case for a resentencing hearing under SB 483, it must appoint an attorney for the inmate. Additionally, the court must “apply any other changes in law that reduce sentences or provide for judicial discretion so as to eliminate disparity of sentences and to promote uniformity of sentencing.” In this way, SB 483 opens the door for inmates who are seeking other relief from lengthy sentences to get before the court, which is often an incredibly challenging feat, especially for older convictions.

Additionally, the court can, but is not required to, consider an inmate’s “post-conviction factors,” such as their efforts at rehabilitation, diminished physical condition, reduced risk of future violence, and other evidence suggesting a change in circumstances since the original sentencing hearing.

SB 483 is clearly focused on reducing sentences, and the vast majority of inmates who may qualify should not fear receiving a greater sentence. To alleviate any lingering concerns, SB 483 provides that any resentencing under the new law “shall result in a lesser sentence than the one originally imposed …, unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that imposing a lesser sentence would endanger public safety.” This limits a judge’s ability to effectively negate the purpose of the bill and all but eliminates any risk of pursuing a resentencing hearing under SB 483.

Contact the California Post-Conviction Lawyers at Barhoma Law, P.C. to Learn More

At Barhoma Law, P.C., our lawyers are trained criminal appeals and post-conviction lawyers. It is recommended that you retain an attorney will the specific skill set necessary to handle post-conviction cases. Retaining the right kind of criminal appeals team will assist in ensuring your rights are fully represented during the discovery/initial phase, during the petition processes, and in the re-sentencing court. Generally, retaining a California criminal appeals attorney will allow you to ensure your new sentence is appropriate.

Call Barhoma Law, P.C. to determine if SB 483, or any other re-sentencing petition, applies to you. You can consult with one of our attorneys by submitting a contact submission or by calling us at (213) 800-7664.

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