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How to Modify a Criminal Sentence in CA


When the judge announces a sentence for your alleged crime, you may think that there is no hope, especially if the sentence is particularly harsh. However, it is possible to modify a criminal sentence in California.

The following are the three ways to modify a sentence:

  • File a motion for resentencing (MFR) - This type of motion is filed by the prisoner and asks the judge to alter or modify his/her sentence. The court will only make a change if there was a clerical error (i.e. the clerk entered the incorrect sentence), the sentence given to the prisoner was illegal, or the court made a judicial error (i.e. the court failed to review specific sentencing evidence). Once the original sentence is ordered, the MRF can be filed at any time if there is evidence of good cause.
  • Appeal the sentence - The prisoner can ask the appellate court to modify a sentence determined by the Superior Court. This does not mean the prisoner is given a new trial or that the court will examine new evidence. The appellate court will review the proceedings during the trial and figure out if any legal errors significantly affected the prisoner’s rights. If the court notices a legal error or prejudice against the prisoner, it will overturn the sentence.
  • File a writ of habeas corpus petition (HCP) - This type of petition challenges the conditions of the sentence after all possible appeals have been filed. HCP is typically used under rare circumstances.

However, there are a couple of ways a court could modify a sentence without any action from the prisoner. For example, the court can recall a sentence within 120 after it was determined, based on the prisoner’s disciplinary record, future risk, and other interests. Additionally, the court could recall a sentence because of health reasons, especially if the prison is terminally ill and not a threat to public safety.

For more information about criminal law in Santa Barbara, contact our legal team at Appel & Morse today.

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