Category Archives: Penal Code

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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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” 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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