When you ask a criminal defense lawyer what penalties you will face for a crime, the answer you will receive is often “it depends.” That is because sentencing depends on numerous factors, including the facts of the case, the judge and whether any number of exceptions applies.
However, California lawmakers are currently considering a bill that will eliminate that uncertainty by enacting a limit on the maximum number of years a person can be sentenced for a felony offense.
Under Senate Bill 1279, no person could be sentenced for more than twice the prescribed sentence for any felony. For example, if the maximum sentence for a felony is four years, the new law would allow a court to double that sentence to eight years and no more than that.
What Was Old is Made New
In 1976, a similar law was passed in California. After many years of seeing various exceptions being applied to this law, it was repealed in 1997. Since then, judges have had significant freedom to impose sentences depending on the circumstances of the case.
The goal of SB 1279 is to eliminate some of the inequality of sentencing in the justice system. According to reports, the author of the bill, State Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), pointed out that there is no research that shows harsher sentences are an effective deterrent to prevent others from committing crimes. At the same time, there is research that shows these harsh sentences overwhelmingly affect non-white communities.
“Until we can prove that longer sentences are an effective deterrent to crime and increase public safety, there is absolutely no reason we should dole out extreme and harsh sentences for all cases, which research has widely proven to disproportionately impact black and brown people,” Bradford said.
Is SB 1279 Soft on Crime?
Opponents of the bill – primarily law enforcement agencies and district attorneys – say the bill will eliminate judges’ ability to use the facts and circumstances of a case to dispense an appropriate punishment, especially in cases where multiple counts of the same crime are found.
They point to the 2016 incident at the Ghost Ship warehouse party in Oakland, in which 36 people died in a building fire. Two people have been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, for which they could serve a maximum of nearly 40 years. If SB 1279 becomes law, they may only serve a maximum of eight years each.
However, as noted in the bill’s text, “California’s sentence enhancement laws are extraordinarily complex. Some enhancements give courts the discretion to choose one of three possible terms. Some enhancements are imposed due to the prior criminal history of a defendant. Other enhancements are imposed because of the circumstances of the offense committed.”
With no true road map and a number of exceptions, the sentence to be imposed is often left to the personal decision of the judge in the trial, which can lead to inconsistent sentences for similar crimes.
Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today
If you or someone you love has been charged with a serious felony offense, the best thing you can do is have an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side. At Wallin & Klarich, our knowledgeable attorneys have more than 35 years of experience successfully defending clients facing serious felony charges. Let us help you now.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced and skilled Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.
Contact our offices today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.