California has long been known as a place that is particularly hard on those convicted of criminal offenses, and its criminal justice system is structured to impose lengthy sentences with limited opportunities for parole, even for non-violent offenses. Given this harshness, having an experienced criminal defense attorney is necessary to mitigate the consequences and influence the outcome. This severe sentencing system is encapsulated in the State’s Three Strikes Law that leaves virtually no room for leniency or discretion in criminal sentencing. California voters thought this system was in the process of being reformed when they passed Proposition 47 in 2014, which reduces sentences for some drug and theft crimes as well as allowing some offenders to petition for an earlier release. However, the California Supreme Court seems to have halted some of this reform in a recent decision by reaffirming that judges have broad discretion to decide when to reduce an offender’s sentence, and specifically stated that Proposition 47 did not apply to offenders serving 25 years to life under the Three Strikes Law. A discussion of the recent attempts by voters to reform sentencing laws, and how the court’s decision is likely to affect sentencing going forward, will follow below.
Propositions 36 and 47
Proposition 36 was the first law passed by voters aimed at reducing the prison and jail populations, and allows first- and second- time defendants convicted of certain drug offenses to have the charges dismissed if they complete a court-approved treatment program, commonly called a diversion program. Defendants can be ordered to attend these programs for up to 12 months, as well as two additional six month increments as necessary. Only defendants convicted of non-violent drug offenses are eligible for diversion programs, which include crimes related to use and simple possession. Convictions related to the sale or manufacture of drugs do not qualify for diversion, and there are other factors that can disqualify a defendant, such as prior convictions for violent felonies under the Three Strikes Law and being armed at the time the drug offense was committed.
Proposition 47, as noted above, is primarily intended to reduce penalties for certain crimes by downgrading nonviolent and non-serious crime to misdemeanors. Most importantly, this measure permitted convicted defendants to ask a court for resentencing if the conviction was related to a crime reduced to a misdemeanor under the terms of Proposition 47. Some examples of these crimes include:
- personal use of most illegal drugs;
- fraud, if the value of the check was $950 or less;
- receiving stolen property worth $950 or less; and
- shoplifting, if the value of the goods was $950 or less.
Likely Impact of the Court’s Decision
Proposition 47 required judges to apply a more restrictive definition of what constituted a safety risk when deciding whether to reduce a sentence, which gives judges less latitude. The California Supreme Court decided to exclude defendants serving sentences under the Three Strikes Law from Proposition 47’s definition of safety risk because it did not specifically mention the Three Strikes Law. Further, the court reasoned taking away a judge’s discretion to reject a reduction in sentence request would release offenders with a propensity to recommit violent crimes in greater numbers than the voters intended. The practical effect is that any defendant with a Three Strikes sentence, even if one or more of the crimes would be considered non-violent, has a greater chance of rejection when requesting a sentence reduction, which underscores the need to hire a criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible. The more time a criminal defendant has to mount a case, the better the chance to have the charges reduced or dismissed entirely.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you were charged with a crime or fear you are a possible suspect, contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your case. Time is of the essence in criminal matters, and once certain deadlines pass, an attorney’s ability to act is limited. The Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC handles a wide variety of State and federal crimes, and will give your case the attention it needs to get the best possible result. Attorneys are available 24/7. Call us today for a free consultation.