What Are California Ameliorative Sentencing Laws?
Criminal and other laws are constantly changing in California. Working with a proven criminal defense team that stays up to date with these ever-evolving changes is essential for those facing criminal arrests and charges.
At Appel & Morse, our team of former prosecutors are experienced and respected resources in and around the greater Santa Barbara area for criminal defense and its ongoing alterations by our lawmakers.
An example of such changes includes the 2022 changes enacted to sentencing laws that could be classified as “ameliorative.” These laws aim to reduce the severity of sentencing or provide relief to individuals already sentenced. They can affect how future cases are prosecuted and also provide opportunities for those already convicted to seek relief.
California Sentencing Under Penal Code 1170
In 2022, a change was made to Penal Code 1170, which involves how sentences are determined and imposed for certain offenses. This law allows judges some flexibility when deciding the length of prison sentences for individuals convicted of specific felonies. It can permit a judge to order a sentence that doesn't exceed the middle term, except in certain circumstances.
In California's criminal law system, a "middle term" refers to one of the three potential sentencing lengths that a judge can choose from when sentencing a defendant convicted of a felony. The three terms are the lower, middle, and upper.
For example, if a crime has a sentencing range of three, five, or seven years, the "middle term" would be five years. The judge decides which term to apply based on various factors, including the circumstances of the offense and the offender's prior criminal history.
Another important aspect of Penal Code 1170 is section 1170(h), which pertains to individuals who are convicted of certain felonies. Instead of automatically sending these individuals to state prison, it allows for them to be sent to county jail.
How the Penal Code Changes Affect Felony Sentencing
Let's illustrate the changes with a scenario:
John, a resident of Santa Barbara, was convicted of a non-violent drug offense in 2017 and received a high-term sentence of five years. John has no prior convictions, and his crime did not involve any harm to others. He has been serving his sentence in state prison and has shown good behavior throughout his term.
The change in this law favoring lower or middle-term sentences for certain offenses included the one for which John was convicted.
A key component of Penal Code 1170 is section 1170(d)(1), which authorizes a court to recall a sentence and resentence a person to a lesser sentence under two circumstances: (1) on the court's own motion or (2) upon the recommendation of the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or the Board of Parole Hearings.
This means that if a person has been serving a sentence and shows good behavior or other positive factors, the court may have the authority to reduce their sentence.
Taking advantage of this new law, John's attorney filed a motion to have John's sentence reconsidered under the new guidelines. The court agreed that the new law applied to John's case and reduced his sentence to a middle term of three years.
Because John had already served more than three years of his original sentence, he was immediately eligible for release. Thanks to the ameliorative sentencing law, John could return to his community earlier than expected.
This scenario is a simplification and does not cover all the complexities of the legal process or sentencing. The application of ameliorative sentencing laws can vary depending on the specifics of each case.
For more information about sentencing laws, give us a call at (805) 467-6060 or reach us online for a free consultation. We’re available during regular business hours, evenings, and weekends.