CA Sentencing Case: “Tremendous Mess” Or Little Change?


Experts disagree on the likely impact of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision voiding part of California’s sentencing law. The Los Angeles Times says the case could give thousands of recently convicted state prisoners a chance for a shorter sentence. The 6-3 ruling said California’s system is flawed because it gives judges too much power to add extra years to a prison sentence.

Each year, more than 250,000 people are sent to prison for felonies in California. About 15 percent of those cases result in an “upper term” sentence that was the subject of the ruling. “This is going to be a tremendous mess for the courts to sort out,” said Santa Clara law professor Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Uelmen said more than 30,000 cases per year for the past two or three years might require a new sentencing hearing. Others noted that about 90 percent of felony convictions arise from plea bargains, not trials, and therefore would not be affected by the ruling. That suggests that far fewer cases would be eligible for resentencing. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley said the case “will have minimal impact in Los Angeles County because the majority of our cases, 96 percent, are resolved by case settlement.”


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