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Typically, criminal trials occur in two phases – a first phase to determine guilt, and, if the determination is positive, a second phase to determine the sentence. While most people assume, due to the prevalence of trials in television dramas where the verdict ends the show, that the trial ends at this point, in reality, the trial of the now-convicted defendant moves to asentencing phase. In the sentencing phase, new and additional evidence may be presented to the court that could result in a reduced sentence.

However, there is also the possibility that the prosecution will present evidence that may have the opposite effect – increasing, or enhancing, the sentence. California has many statutes relating to sentence enhancements; its Habitual Offender Laws (also known as Three Strikes Laws) is one of the more well-known. As a result, over 80 percent of those incarcerated in California prisons are serving an extended period of time, due to at least one enhanced sentence provision.

However, the California Legislature is considering a bill to reform two of the more commonly used enhancements. A discussion of how sentence enhancements work, as well as what the bill is intended to reform, will follow below.

Sentencing Enhancements

Generally, an enhanced sentence is a sentence that is increased from one classification of offense to another, with higher classification, as a result of a prior conviction or the nature of the circumstances involved. Enhanced sentence laws are present in both federal and state laws, and, as such, vary by jurisdiction.

Looking at California, its Habitual Offender Law requires a defendant convicted of a felony, and who was previously convicted of a serious felony, to be sentenced to twice the prison term required by the newer felony. And, further, if a defendant is convicted of a serious or violent felony, with two or more prior convictions, the law mandated a prison term of at least 25 years to life, though, amendments passed in recent years allow for a sentence reduction if the third conviction was for a non-violent offense.

The intent of this law is to deter a convicted offender from committing new crimes upon release. However, and the primary reason the Legislature is considering these reform bills, there seems to be little evidence that the deterrence factor of sentence enhancing laws actually works (on the other side, proponents of sentence enhancement assert that they are necessary to allow sentences to accurately reflect one’s criminal history).

Specifically, research, including that by the National Institute of Justice, maintains that long sentences do not serve to deter people from committing further crimes, and, in fact, contribute, instead, to overcrowded prisons and cost taxpayers money.

Senate Bills 1392-1393

If enacted, the two bills, currently in the Appropriations Committee, would eliminate a one-year sentence enhancement for defendants with prior jail or prison terms, as well as allow a judge to ignore a defendant’s prior felony conviction for purposes of imposing additional sentence terms for serious felonies. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, these two enhancements affect 16,177 and 19,677 sentences, respectively, through Dec. 1, 2017.

It is to be noted, regarding the last aspect stated above, it is not as if the prior felony conviction will have no effect. Rather, it will be up to the judge’s discretion whether to include it when he/she is considering sentence enhancements. In this case, having an experienced criminal defense attorney on the side of a defendant is critical to convincing the judge to disregard the defendant’s prior criminal history.

Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime, and have a previous criminal history, seek representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The attorneys at Manshoory Law Group have a breadth of knowledge regarding criminal law in California and will know what arguments and evidence will put you in the best possible situation. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your calls. Contact our Los Angeles office today for an initial consultation.

Shaheen Manshoory
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