California has long been given the title of “most progressive state.” We lead the country in more than one way; equal pay, abortion, and one’s “right to die” to name but a few. We lead the country and the world with respect to technological advancements, immigration and on protecting the environment. While that list could be expanded in several ways, it is important to remember that California is a very large state and is home to people who are polarized when it comes to criminal justice.
While we are not alone regarding the later point, California is in a unique position when it comes to setting an example. Other states often look to California to gauge or adopt policies. With that in mind, it is vital that Californians do their best to set a good example. Yet, the results of a new report show that California is tied for having the most prisoners serving life sentences, PBS Newshour reports. We are tied with Utah, 129,805 prisoners currently serving life sentences, and in many cases not for just cause. To make matters worse here in California, there are 3,025 juveniles sentenced to life or virtual life sentences.
So, how did we get to being both the most progressive and having the most life sentences? The simple answer goes back to 1996 with the enactment of the 10-20-Life law or “use a gun and you’re done” law—PC 12022.53. A mandatory minimum sentencing law that allows for enhancements to length of sentences when a gun is used in the commission of a crime. The bill was written by a father who was killed in the 1990’s, according to the article. The law adds anywhere from 3 years to life without probation in addition to their felony sentence for the crime committed, if there was gun involved. For instance, a person found guilty of robbery could be given 10, 20 years or a life sentence for using a gun to commit the crime.
“When you think of life [sentences], you think of people who killed somebody, but in California, there’s a lot of enhancements that are attached to other crimes that make you eligible for a life sentence for which the courts have no discretion,” said Tal Klement, a deputy public defender in San Francisco. “Firearms are terrible and you want to discourage the use of firearms in committing crimes, but I don’t know if there’s any evidence that supports these harsh sentences deter use of them.”
In an effort to make changes to the 10-20-Life Law, Sen. Steven Bradford introduced SB 620 last month to the Senate Public Safety Committee, the article reports. If the legislation manages to go the distance, judges would be granted permission to weigh the individual circumstances of a defendant before dealing a harsh sentence.
“These enhancements cause problems. They disproportionately increase racial disparities in imprisonments and they greatly increase the population of incarcerated persons,” said Sen. Steven Bradford.
At the Law Office of Ronald G Brower we will continue to follow this most important story. If you have been charged with a crime involving a gun in California, please contact us. Attorney Brower has been prominent figure for over 30 years with regard to legal matters in Southern California.