Finding true justice in California has been a problem for a long time, with racism, injustice, and inequality penetrating the criminal justice system denying defendants liberty void of fairness. For years now, courts have been sentencing defendants to long-term incarceration without proving aggravating factors beyond reasonable certainty or doubt. The US Constitution’s 6th amendment provides every defendant with the right to a fair trial. Nonetheless, giving the fact-finder the discretion to impose a maximum sentence without a jury proving these rights to be true violates your constitutional rights.

Senate Bill (SB) 567 was signed into law on 8th October 2021 and took effect on 1st January 2022 to make the justice system more credible. The bill is a step in the right direction to ensuring defendants obtain true justice in the courtroom by proving aggravation and mitigation factors before imposing an upper or lower term, respectively. This blog highlights the requirements of the old statutes and the recent criminal reforms to help you understand SB 567.

California Old Statutes on Sentence Imposition

The old California statutes define various offenses and punish them by three categories of sentences. The terms include:

  • Low term sentences
  • Middle term sentences
  • Upper or high term sentences

Further, the existing statute's imposition of sentence enhancement depends on mitigating and aggravating facts. Pending 1st January 2022, judges had the discretion to impose any of these terms depending on your case’s nature.

In the old laws, when the court was required to impose any of the triad sentence schemes, they were required to set the middle term imprisonment unless there were aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case. When your case contains facts in aggravation of the crime in question, the court imposed a felony or high term sentence. On the other hand, when there are mitigating circumstances in a case, the court has the discretion to sentence you to a low term sentence.

However, where a middle sentence was the default term provided in the law, imposing a maximum term sentence would be a breach of your constitutional right to a jury trial. Therefore, any aggravating circumstances that would increase your sentence had to be presented in a jury trial to determine their validity beyond a reasonable doubt.

New Statutes Regarding Sentence Imposition

Under the newly enacted SB 567, the court must impose a middle term sentence unless you, as the defendant, insist on the existence of facts aggravating to the crime or a jury establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the circumstances are factual.

Similarly, you can instruct the court with the help of your attorney to separate the prosecution of charges and sentence enhancement from a trial on your case’s aggravating circumstances unless the facts are specified in the law. Note that before imposing the high term sentence, the court must consider your previous convictions with the proof of certified conviction record devoid of a jury finding and clearly state the reasons that led to the decision.

SB 567 is the most recent development in what has been a challenge that has faced the California legal process for a long time. As explained above, the old laws were initially enacted in 1977 and allowed judges to impose a triad sentence scheme.

Nonetheless, the US Supreme Court in Apprendi V. New Jersey ruled in 2000 that any circumstances or factors subjecting you as a defendant to a sentence above the statutory provision must go before a jury and be proved beyond reasonable certainty.

Later on, in 2007, the Supreme Court in Cunningham V. California held that California’s determinate sentencing statutes were illegal because they violated the Apprendi ruling in 2000. The court established the laws violated the United States’ sixth amendment right to a jury by allowing courts to issue verdicts exposing defendants to upper or high term imprisonment.  

In the wake of Cunningham, the Legislature, instead of enacting meaningful reforms in sentencing laws, came up with a temporary solution to the problem by adopting SB 40. The temporary law allowed courts to continue using the triad sentence scheme if they gave reasons for the maximum sentence. Unfortunately, the law did not grant defendants the chance to have the facts in aggravation reviewed and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The only exception where judges could not express their discretion is when the law provided a middle term as the default sentence.

Senate Bill 40 was only a temporary solution until 1st January 2009, when legislators could find a permanent solution. Sadly, no permanent solution was provided until 14 years later, on 31st December 2021, when the lawmakers came up with a permanent answer to the problems facing the criminal justice system through SB 567.   

Understanding How SB 567 Works

The intention of SB 567 is to bring fairness to the criminal justice system by ensuring fair sentencing of convicts. Nonetheless, the new reforms do not operate alone because they work alongside Assembly Bill (AB) 1540 and AB 124.

  1. AB 1540

Before adopting Assembly Bill 1540, the old law required the court to recall inmates’ sentences and resentence them to a lower term within one hundred and twenty days of the original sentencing. Additionally, the court had the authority to recall your sentence as an inmate anytime when the district attorney, the Board of Parole Hearings, and the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) recommended so. The old laws removed sentence disparities and enhanced consistency in sentencing by applying the Judicial Council guidelines. After the resentencing, the judge could sentence you to a lesser incarceration period and adjust the original ruling for the interest of justice.

After the new reforms and adoption of the new bill, the court is required to issue you with notice and set a status conference within thirty days after they have received a resentencing request. The recent reforms reduce the duration you spend behind bars before resentencing from 120 to 30 days which is a relief for many defendants.

Also, the bill ensures that your rights are protected during the resentencing by providing legal counsel if you cannot afford a private attorney. Under AB 1540, the court does not need to set a hearing when the opposing parties agree to a resentencing. However, even if this law establishes a presupposition favorable to recalls and resentencing, the court must provide reasons for their decision to resentence.

When you think that you qualify for a reduced sentence, you have appealed to the court for resentencing, or the court violated your rights during resentencing. You are eligible to recall a sentence if any of the following is true:

  • You were convicted and petitioned the court for a resentencing proceeding
  • You were without an attorney in your corner during the resentencing proceeding
  • You were resentenced, but the court failed to provide reasons for the new sentence
  • You requested for a resentencing, but the court disregarded the presumption approving a recall and resentencing

Therefore, if you were convicted to a prison term and asked for a recall and resentencing that had an unfavorable outcome, then you should speak to an attorney to assess your case and establish whether AB 1540 is applicable in your case.

With the help of an attorney who understands these reforms, you are likely to win the case. Your legal counsel will start by presenting a resentencing motion before a judge to obtain a modified or lowered prison term. Alternatively, you can bring a writ of habeas corpus, file an appeal or have a recall by the court itself.

Recall the court has thirty days to arrange a status conference. Also, unless you have hired private counsel, the court must appoint a public defender on your behalf to ensure your rights are protected throughout the legal process. A court-appointed attorney is not always the best because they deal with many other clients and will not give your case the required attention. Therefore, take your time and find an affordable attorney for the subject and ensure they understand all the statutes like AB 124 and SB 567 to obtain the lowest sentence.

Once the court listens to your arguments for a mitigated or reduced sentence, the court can turn down your request for a sentence reduction or suspend the initial disposition and impose a modified one. Note that the court must abide by SB 567 requirement to provide reasons for the modified sentence during resentencing.

  1. Assembly Bill 124

The old law allowed the court to vacate a nonviolent crime arrest or sentence when you can demonstrate with concrete evidence that the apprehension or conviction was a direct outcome or related to being a human trafficking casualty. However, you had to initiate the process by petitioning the court to vacate the initial decision for apprehension or conviction.

Furthermore, the old law established an affirmative defense for charges stemming from coercion to commit a crime when you can demonstrate that you committed the crime due to fear of being harmed and that the offense was a direct result of being a human trafficking victim. Nonetheless, the old law prohibited courts from vacating these decisions when you have been charged with felony human trafficking or serious or violent felony.

However, the new AB 124 offers you as a defendant relief by making it possible to request the court or judge through a petition to vacate sentencing for a nonviolent offense. You are eligible for this relief if the conviction was related to sexual abuse, domestic violence, or human trafficking victims. Under these new reforms, defendants have a good or affirmative defense that you and any other victims of these nonviolent offense convictions were acting out of reasonable fear of sustaining harm or injury.

It is worth noting that when you have sustained physical, emotional, or childhood trauma from the incident, the prosecuting attorney must consider these facts in mitigation to impose lower term imprisonment during a plea deal. Again, the court must consider a lower term sentence if you were a juvenile, human trafficking, or domestic violence victim at the time of the crime.

Under the new reforms, the court will impose a mitigated sentence if:

  • You have suffered physical, mental, or childhood trauma
  • You were a minor when the crime happened
  • You are domestic violence or human trafficking victim

Nevertheless, the court will not always impose a low term sentence. Sometimes even if the above mitigating factors are present in your case, when they are less compared to aggravating factors, you will face a middle or high-term imprisonment. Imposing low-term incarceration when aggravating aspects surpass mitigating circumstances is unfair and conflicts with the interest of justice. In these circumstances, the court will only consider mitigating factors during resentencing.

The new changes brought by the enactment of SB 567, AB 124, and AB 1540 provide you, as a defendant or inmate, with extra protection and corrects unfortunate legal processes during prosecution and even after the court has issued a guilty verdict. Therefore, if you have already been convicted and want to apply for a resentencing or a fair legal process, do not hesitate to contact Foos Gavin Law Firm for questions about these reforms and how they affect your case. 

When your arrest or conviction is related to being a victim of an offense, AB 124 provides you with relief. Besides, if you are domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking victim, you are eligible for statutory relief from the new law. So, if you are among these individuals mentioned as qualified candidates under this statute for a reduced sentence or low term incarceration.

However, a win on your AB 124 petition will not come quickly. The legal procedures involved in this stage are very complex, and you must present your assertions clearly to convince the court or jury that your crime was related to you being a victim of violence. Therefore, you need an experienced criminal attorney to guide you throughout the petition and increase the chances of a favorable outcome. 

Eligible Candidates for Sentence Reduction As Per SB 567

Anyone is eligible for a sentence lowering according to SB 567, notwithstanding the age. However, you need to be convicted when the statutory default sentence is a middle term, or you have been charged with at least one enhancement. Therefore, you qualify for an appeal as per SB 567 if you obtain a maximum sentence instead of a middle term when there are no factors in aggravation to enhance your sentence. Again, when you have an active case in court, this statute will apply to your lawsuit.

Similarly, the new reforms in sentencing laws can provide retroactive relief. It means that even if you were imprisoned years ago before the adoption of SB 567 and continue with your sentence, you are eligible for a sentence reduction. Nonetheless, the procedures followed by inmates convicted as minors versus those sentenced as adults and condemned to life incarceration without the option of parole (LWOP) are different.

Filing a Successful Claim According to SB 567

Recall, SB 567 operates alongside laws like AB 124 and AB 1540, which is why it is retroactive and offers relief for many inmates who want a resentencing trial. Again, if you were convicted to LWOP when below 18, you are eligible for a spontaneous case review.

Inmates Convicted to LWOP When 18 or Younger

When you were sentenced for a crime when underage and the court imposed an upper or maximum term disposition, you have the right to petition the court for a resentencing proceeding but only after you have served at least fifteen years of the imposed sentence. Nonetheless, when you have been sentenced to LWOP, you are ineligible for relief if the following facts are accurate:

  • You tortured the supposed victim
  • The victim of your actions was a firefighter, public safety officer, or a federal, state, or local police officer

Devoid any of these situations, you are eligible for Senate Bill 567 reprieve. You should talk to your appeal attorney about whether you qualify for relief under these new reforms. If you do, the attorney will start by presenting the original appeal to the judge that sentenced you initially and send a copy to the district attorney near you. In the petition, the attorney must state the following:

  • That you were under the age of 18 when you committed the offense
  • The court imposed a disposition of LWOP
  • A statement describing your regrets for the actions and rehabilitation programs you have undergone

Furthermore, in your declaration to the law court, you must state any of these facts:

  • You were sentenced in a felony homicide or aiding principle
  • You have no other felony juvenile judgments or adjudications that can be recalled
  • At the time of the delinquency, you had one or more adults as codefendants
  • You have reformed

When there is a preponderance of the evidence that one of the above facts was present in your case, your petition for a recall will be granted and a resentencing proceeding arranged.

Inmates Sentenced for Offenses Committed Adults and Minors Dispositions Apart from LWOP

Senate Bill 567 is not retroactive in cases involving juveniles imprisoned to LWOP. It means that even if you submit an appeal for resentencing under these circumstances, the court will deny you SB 567 reprieve. Nonetheless, you can still obtain redemption because of the relationship between the old remedies and the reforms brought about by SB 567.

Recall the CDCR, and the local DA can request your sentence to be recalled under AB 2942 and 1170(d)(1). It means that even if SB 567 does not allow you to file a petition, the CDCR and the DA can recommend you be resentenced based on the following factors:

  • Your disciplinary record
  • Your record of reforms or rehabilitation
  • Reduced likelihood of violence
  • Proof demonstrating a change of facts since the initial conviction, meaning your continued imprisonment is not in justice’s interest.

From this information, you can deduce that although SB 567 is not retroactive in some circumstances, it still has other remedies or options to help obtain a resentencing trial when you have been unfairly sentenced to a maximum term.

However, you will explore these options by filing an Assembly Bill 2942 appeal with the DA or an 1170(d)(1) appeal with the CDCR instead of going through an SB 567 liberation.

Obtaining Help With Your SB 567 Appeal From a Criminal Attorney

After SB 567 recently came into effect, you qualify for a resentencing proceeding if you were convicted to LWOP when underage or as an adult. Nevertheless, unless you are an attorney who is up to date with these reforms, you are encouraged to speak to a criminal appeals attorney. These individuals know how to handle post-sentencing cases and increase your chances for Senate Bill 567 reprieve.

When you are sentenced as an adult, you must convince the CDCR or the DA to recommend a resentencing trial to the court that handled your case. These agencies take multiple petitions, and yours needs to stand out. Your attorney will come in at this point to establish a character package enough to convince the authorities to recommend to the sentencing court to offer you a resentencing proceeding. If you fail to put massive effort into the package, your appeal will likely be denied.

On top of the legal memorandum, your attorney must provide evidence that continuing to hold you in prison lacks the interest of justice. An excellent character package will include:

  • Paperwork of all job positions you held
  • Learning courses and degrees attained after your incarceration
  • Acknowledgment by correctional officers about your good behavior
  • Letters from associates and close family highlighting scenarios that show you have reformed
  • Support letters from community members
  • Being a member of religious organizations
  • Employment teaching and victim-awareness programs undertaken during the period of incarceration
  • Any other facts that demonstrate you have reformed

When you work with a profound appeals attorney, they will help you prepare all these documents to help show you are an eligible applicant for resentencing. After the petition is granted, the attorney will work hard for a reduced sentence.

Find a Sacramento Criminal Appeals Attorney Near Me

When you or an immediate family member is wrongfully sentenced to maximum term imprisonment, SB 567 offers you the opportunity to obtain a sentence reduction. After the resentencing, they will reduce your original disposition, and in some cases, you can be released immediately. Nonetheless, the procedures involved here are complex for many inmates to understand. AT Foos Gavin Law Firm, this is where we come in. Our post-sentencing attorneys will work hard to ensure a sentence reduction. Schedule a consultation with us today by calling 916-779-3500 to speak to one of our attorneys in Sacramento.