New Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon has indicated that his office will no longer file sentencing enhancements when charging crimes against defendants, representing a major step forward toward ending the draconian sentencing laws that have filled California prisons beyond capacity. Effectively, this means that the LA District Attorney will no longer seek death penalty or “Life Without Possibility of Parole” sentences, no longer pursue “gang enhancements” which disproportionately target communities of color, no longer seek to punish defendants with life sentences under California’s Three Strikes law, and no longer seek to increase the amount of sentencing “exposure” – or potential time in custody – beyond reason as has become commonplace in California for the last several decades. Thus, all defendants charged in LA County will theoretically be eligible for parole at some point in their sentence.
What are “sentencing enhancements”?
Basically, an enhancement is a criminal charge that “attaches” to another criminal charge to increase the total amount of punishment or seriousness of the charges a defendant may face in a given criminal case.Sentencing enhancements can take two forms, “conduct enhancements”, related to the facts of the conduct in a case, and “status enhancements”, which increase punishment based on the defendant’s prior record or pending criminal charges.
For instance, a defendant charged with a felony who is out on bail, and commits a new felony offense, can be charged with an “out on bail” enhancement under Penal Code section 12022.1(b), which would increase any punishment faced by the defendant in the new case by two additional years if found true at a jury trial or court trial. [See Cal. Penal Code § 12022.1(b)]. Or, if a defendant commits an assault and it is alleged he committed “great bodily injury” under Penal Code section 12022.7(a), he would face an additional three years punishment in addition to the penalty for the felony assault, and also have that assault designated as a “serious or violent” felony under Penal Code section 667.5(c) and Penal Code section 1192.7(c) that would increase any future felony exposure by the defendant by double if it were alleged as a prior strike. [Cal. Penal Code §§ 12022.7(a), 1170.12(b)(5), (c)(1)]. Depending on the circumstances, “use” of a firearm in a crime can increase punishment from three years to 25 years to life under a number of different “gun enhancements”. [See, e.g., Cal. Penal Code §§ 12022.5, 12022.53(b)-(d)].
There are countless types of enhancements for nearly every type of case, whether it be a theft, violent crime, sexual offense, drug case, white collar crime, or any other offense, across the several codes that are relevant to criminal prosecutions. All enhancements are used as a means to increase potential punishment in State Prison or county jail, or as a means to increase future punishments in case a defendant is arrested in the future on new charges.
The Problem with Enhancements
Many times, enhancements are charged in a way that increase the amount of “exposure” against a defendant so high that, in fear of a chance he or she may be convicted at jury trial and face incarceration for an astronomical amount of time, the defendant may feel he or she has no other option but to plead guilty or no contest to an offense he or she may be Not Guilty of. Other times, individuals who are sentenced to terms based on enhancements that are several decades long may become fully rehabilitated prior to the end of their term are forced to serve time in custody for a period longer than justified. In the case of death penalty cases, a defendant can literally be put to death by the government after jury trial for crimes that in many documented cases they either did not commit, or played a reduced role than what was presented at trial. In this way, enhancements fuel the problems and danger of wrongful convictions and over-incarceration which are the bedrock of injustice in the State of California.
Enhancements are still being charged liberally in Solano, Napa, and Yolo Counties – Call Honeychurch Law Today
Unfortunately, the District Attorneys of Solano, Napa, and Yolo Counties have not followed Mr. Gascon’s lead in declining to file sentencing enhancements in all types of prosecutions filed daily within those counties. If you or your loved ones are charged with a crime in Solano, Napa, or Yolo Counties, you need an experienced, tireless legal team on your side to fight overzealous charging by the prosecution. Call Honeychurch Law as soon as you can at 707-429-3111 for a free consultation as to how our attorneys can fight for the best possible outcome on your case.