Category Archives: legislation

Senate Bill 620 Relaxes California’s Firearm Enhancements

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Senate Bill 620 Signed into Law

Senate Bill 620 was signed into law on October 11, 2017. The law gives judges the authority to strike or dismiss a firearm enhancement at sentencing. Judges may dismiss or strike enhancements if it is “in the interests of justice.”

What is an Enhancement?

An enhancement adds time to the length of a prison or jail sentence. In the case of firearm enhancements, as much as 25 years to life can be added to a sentence.

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California Firearm Enhancements

The firearm enhancements affected by Senate Bill 620 are Penal Code Sections 12022.5 and 12022.53.

Penal Code Section 12022.5

Additional 3, 4, or 10 years for use of a firearm in the commission of a felony or attempted felony (unless use of a firearm is an element of the felony).

Additional 5, 6, or 10 years for use of an assault weapon or machine gun during the commission of a felony or attempted felony.

Penal Code Section 12022.53

Additional 10 years for use of a firearm during the commission of a Specified Felony, even if the firearm is not loaded or operable.

Additional 20 years for discharging a firearm during a Specified Felony.

Additional 25 years to life for causing death or great bodily injury using a firearm.

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Specified Felony

Specified Felonies include murder, mayhem, kidnapping, robbery, carjacking, rape, and all felonies punishable by death or life in prison.

For a complete list see Penal Code Section 12022.53.

Judicial Discretion

Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 620, judges were required to sentence defendants to additional prison or jail time upon a jury finding that a firearm was used during a felony.

Judges now have the option to strike firearm enhancements if doing so would be in the Interests of Justice.

Interests of Justice

The “Interests of Justice” is whatever a judge determines to be fair and equitable.

What is a Firearm?

A firearm is:

  • A device.
  • Designed to be used as a weapon.
  • Shoots a projectile through a barrel by explosion or other form of combustion.

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What is an Assault Weapon?

“Assault weapons” are semiautomatic firearms listed under Penal Code Section 30510, et seq.

What is a Machine Gun?

Machine guns are any weapon that automatically shoots more than one shot by a single function of the trigger.

Machine guns also includes any parts used in converting a weapon into a machine gun AND guns that are readily convertible to machine guns.

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Can Police Search if They Smell Marijuana?

Can Police Search Me if They Smell Marijuana?

With some exceptions, police may not search a suspect or his/her property solely because they smell marijuana.

Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, was enacted November 9, 2016. It prohibits a search based on legal possession or use of marijuana.

In order to conduct a search, police must have reason to believe the marijuana possession or use is illegal or that the suspect is engaged in some other illegal activity (In Re D.W.).

What Can Police Do if They Smell Marijuana?

Police MAY investigate further based on the smell or issue a notice to appear in court. Below is a discussion of some scenarios where police can arrest a suspect when they smell marijuana.

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Driving Under the Influence

Driving a vehicle while “under the influence” of marijuana is illegal under Vehicle Code Section 23152(f).

Police may arrest the driver if they have probable cause to believe the driver is under the influence of marijuana.

Illegal Marijuana Activity

Police may arrest a suspect if they have probable cause to believe the suspect is illegally using, transporting, cultivating, selling, possessing marijuana, or manufacturing concentrates. See Health & Safety Code Sections:

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Search Incident to Lawful Arrest (“Sila”)

Police may search a suspect who in the process of being arrested or has been placed under arrest.

Police may search a suspect and the suspect’s immediate area for weapons or evidence that can be concealed or destroyed (Chimel v. California).

Probable Cause

Probable cause means law enforcement is aware of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the person is guilty of a crime (Brinegar v. United States).

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Probable Cause for Marijuana-related Crimes

Common facts and circumstances used by law enforcement to support probable cause include:

    • Smoke or paraphernalia in car.
    • Smell marijuana smoke on hands or breath.
    • Strong smell of marijuana in vehicle.
    • Appearance and actions of driver.
    • Failed field sobriety test(s) (ok to refuse).
    • Suspect confesses to illegal conduct.
    • Pay/owe sheets, scales, large quantities of money.
    • Driver is sole occupant and/or car full of luggage.

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Prop 47 Case Law Update

What is Prop 47?

Prop 47 makes certain drug and property offenses under $950 a misdemeanor.

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Prop 47 Case Law

Prop 47 was passed on November 4, 2014. Since then, courts have ruled that the following charges should also be misdemeanors:

Proposition 47 Does Not Apply to the Following Charges

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Proposition 47 Applies to the Following Charges:

  • Shoplifting – Penal Code 459 – Shoplifting
  • Forgery – Penal Code 470-476
  • Fraud/Bad Checks of $950 or less – Penal Code 476a
  • Grand Theft of $950 or less – Penal Code 487
  • Petty Theft/Shoplifting of $950 or less – Penal Code 484, 484/666
  • Possession of Methamphetamine – Health & Safety 11377
  • Possession of Controlled Substance – Health & Safety 11350
  • Possession of Concentrated Cannabis – Health and Safety 11357(a)
  • Receiving Stolen Property – Penal Code 496

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Prop 47 is Retroactive

Proposition 47 applies to cases prior to November 4, 2014. Inmates must file a petition in the county courthouse where they were convicted. The petition forms vary by county and can be accessed here.

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SCR 48: Resolution to Reform Felony Murder Rule

SCR 48 – Senate Concurrent Resolution

SCR 48 is a senate concurrent resolution passed on September 22, 2017. It recognized the need for statutory reform to more equitably sentence offenders according to their involvement in the crime.

Although SCR 48 did not make any changes to existing law, it laid the foundation for Senate Bill 1437 – Accomplice Liability for Felony Murder.

Senate Bill 1437 is making its first pass through the California state legislature. After the Committee on Public Safety approved the bill by a vote of 6-1, it was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. A meeting before the Appropriations Committee is currently set for May 7, 2018.

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SCR 48 – Punishment Should Match the Crime

Currently there are 2 laws – felony murder and aiding and abetting – that impose a punishment that is disproportionate to the criminal activity. SCR 48 recognizes that it is fundamentally unfair and in violation of basic principles of individual culpability to punish a person for the unforeseen results of another’s action.

SCR 48 – Overcrowded Prisons are Expensive

According to SCR 48, California continues to house inmates in numbers well beyond its maximum capacity at an average of 130% of capacity. WASCO, for example, is 2,000 inmates over the designed maximum capacity. Incarceration of an inmate in California costs taxpayers $70,836 per year. There are currently approximately 118,000 inmates incarcerated in California.

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Malice

“Malice” is a deliberate unlawful intention to take away the life of another. Malice is required for a conviction for first or second degree murder, except in the case of felony murder.

Felony Murder

Under felony-murder, a defendant does not have to intend to kill anyone, nor commit the homicidal act, to be sentenced to first-degree murder. A defendant can be sentenced to first-degree murder even if the killing was unintentional, accidental, or negligent.

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First-Degree Felony Murder

A conviction for first-degree murder results in a sentence of 25 years to life.

To be convicted of first-degree felony murder, the prosecutor only needs to prove that the killing was committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate a felony specified in Penal Code Section 189.

Those felonies are arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, torture, sodomy, lewd act on a child under 14, oral copulation, and rape by instrument.

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Second-Degree Felony Murder

A conviction for second-degree murder results in a sentence of 15 years to life.

To be convicted of second-degree felony, the prosecutor only needs to prove that the killing was committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate an “inherently dangerous felony.”

Inherently dangerous felonies include but are not limited to discharging a firearm at an inhabited dwelling, manufacturing methamphetamine, maliciously burning a car, and possessing a bomb in a residential area.

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Proposition 57 Parole For Nonviolent Inmates

Proposition 57

Proposition 57, “The Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016,” allows parole consideration for people convicted of nonviolent felonies after they have completed the full term for their primary offense.

The goal of the law is to stop the revolving door of crime by better preparing inmates to succeed when they re-enter our communities.
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Parole Process

All inmates currently serving a conviction for a non-violent offense as defined by the California Penal Code will be able to participate in the parole process. The new parole consideration process began on July 1, 2017.

However, inmates are not automatically granted parole. Parole MAY be granted to inmates who have completed the full term for their primary offense and demonstrated that they should no longer be considered a current threat to public safety.

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Additional Credits

“Credits” are how the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation tracks the number of days remaining on inmate sentences. Proposition 57 allows inmates to earn additional credits for good behavior and participation in rehabilitative, educational and career training programs.

The previous credit system is based on the crime committed. Under proposition 57, credits will be based on conduct and participation in programs. The CDCR will now award increased credits for Good Conduct and Milestone Completion Programs. CDCR will also begin awarding credits for Rehabilitative Achievement and Educational Merit.

Who Can Receive Credits?

Inmates sentenced to death or life without parole are not eligible to receive credits. All other inmates are eligible.

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When Did Credits Start?

  • Good Conduct Credits began on May 1, 2017.
  • Milestone Completion, Rehabilitative Achievement, and Educational Merit Credits began on August 1, 2017.

All credits except can be revoked for disciplinary infractions except Educational Merit Credits.

Changes To Juvenile Justice System

Proposition 57 removed the prosecutor’s authority to decide whether juveniles charged with certain crimes should be tried in juvenile or adult court. That decision will now be made by judges.

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California Becomes A Sanctuary State

California Becomes A “Sanctuary State”

On October 5, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Values Act. The “sanctuary state” law aims to protect California’s 2.3 million undocumented citizens from federal immigration authorities (ICE).

sanctuary state

Currently local authorities may release inmate information, including citizenship status, to federal immigration authorities. When the law becomes effective on January 1st, 2018, ICE will no longer be notified when undocumented immigrants are released from jail.

When Does The Sanctuary State Law Start?

The sanctuary state law is set to go into effect on January 1, 2018. If the Trump administration, which opposes the law, challenges the law in federal court, the start date of the law could be delayed until the conclusion of court proceedings.

sanctuary state

What Changes?

The California Values Act does not prevent ICE from looking for people without documentation or executing search warrants for non-citizens. The law does ban state and local agencies, excluding the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from enforcing “holds” on people in prison custody.

The act blocks the deputization of police as immigration agents and bars state and local law enforcement agencies from asking about immigration status. It also prohibits new or expanded contracts with federal agencies to use California law enforcement facilities as detention centers.

sanctuary state

California Responds To Trump Administration

State and local governments are locked in a battle with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over Sessions’ move to slash federal grant funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions.” A number of California cities have become sanctuary cities or cut ties with immigration authorities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Proponents of the law argue that it makes immigrant communities safer by encouraging trust, cooperation and communication between immigrants and local authorities. Research has shown sanctuary cities have lower crime rates and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens.

The Trump administration has tried to draw a link between undocumented immigrants and increases in violent crimes.

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Santa Barbara County Sheriff

Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown, president of the California State Sheriff’s Association, opposed the California Values Act. Brown says people will be victimized as a result of the new law.

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