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October 9, 2021

California enacts new laws to reduce certain sentencing enhancements

As reported in this Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Newsom signs bills restricting sentencing enhancements for many crimes," California has now enacted another round of notable sentencing reforms.  Here are the details:

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed laws aimed at reducing prison sentences for people convicted of drug- and gang-related crimes, despite concerns from prosecutors that the measures will hinder their effort to protect

Legislation signed by the governor includes Senate Bill 81, which seeks to reduce the number of sentence enhancements in criminal cases that can double prison terms. More than 150 enhancements exist for aggravating factors that include prior criminal records, use of a gun in the commission of a crime and offenses involving minors.

The law by state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would have judges dismiss enhancements in certain cases, including when they would result in “discriminatory racial impact” or a sentence of more than 20 years, or when the offense is connected to mental illness, prior victimization or childhood trauma. Skinner said enhancements disproportionately affect people of color.

“If sentence enhancements were applied fairly, this wouldn’t be an issue,” she said. “However, data shows that in California, you are much more likely to receive a sentence enhancement if you are Black. SB 81 tells our courts: Let’s stop unfair sentences and use enhancements only when necessary to protect the public.”

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes SB 81 “because it will likely result in many otherwise appropriate sentence enhancements being dismissed,” said Cory Salzillo, the group’s legislative director.

A companion measure signed by Newsom, SB 483, allows the retroactive repeal of sentence enhancements for prior prison or county jail felony terms. The governor also signed Assembly Bill 333, which restricts the use of sentence enhancements for alleged gang crimes.

Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) said her measure aims to reduce the list of crimes allowing gang enhancements to be charged, prohibit the use of the current charge as proof of a pattern of criminal gang activity, and separate gang allegations from underlying charges at trial. The senator said that current gang enhancements have weak definitions and that 92% of people with gang enhancements in the state are people of color....

The measure was opposed by the California District Attorneys Assn., which said it shows a misunderstanding of the way street gangs operate by requiring prosecutors to show a crime was committed to advance a gang as an organization.

“Street gangs don’t operate that way,” said El Dorado County Dist. Atty. Vern Pierson, president of the association. “We are seeing crimes throughout the state of California up dramatically directly related to gangs,” Pierson said. “Unquestionably [the new law] will hamper our ability to go after criminal street gangs.”

October 9, 2021 at 09:48 PM | Permalink


This is a step towards ending mass incarceration. People don't realize just how harsh recidivist laws are. I live in a jurisdiction where a person convicted for a third shoplifting offense must serve 1 year in prison regardless of the value of the item. Mandatory minimum sentences should be abolished for all non-violent offenses and drug possession should be a misdemeanor or a civil infraction.

DA Pierson is wrong regarding the new laws making it difficult for prosecutors to handle gang crimes. A person guilty of a crime should be sentenced regardless of their gang status. However, swaths of people "affiliated" with a gang shouldn't be punished because one of them allegedly committed a crime.

Posted by: anon | Oct 9, 2021 10:43:31 PM

This is just another example of the fallacious idea that "people of color" are being discriminated against when the actual fact is the "people of color" are in gangs (not whites or Asians), they are more violent than other races. It has nothing to do with discrimination.

Nevertheless, enhancements are a particularly abhorrent part of California law and if it takes an idiotic fad theory to infect the brains of California Democrats to get rid of enhancements, That's great.

To all of the police, DA, and Sheriff's orgs that are against all of it: you've still got huge unwarranted sentence lengths to keep you warm at night. California still has far too many inmates and convicts.

I guess coming in via the back door is better than no reform at all.

Posted by: restless94110 | Oct 10, 2021 11:35:26 AM

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