California's New Prison Realignment Law

In early October, the State of California passed a revamped sentencing law. California’s revised sentencing law will send those convicted of nonviolent or non-serious crimes to county jails instead of state prison; it is a change designed to save the state money and is aimed at reducing inmate over-crowding.

Interestingly, California lawmakers had to move some “serious” crime categories to county jurisdiction to get the financial savings needed to help the state’s budget; some crimes that qualify for local sentences and/or local control could be characterized as “serious” or “violent” offenses. In other words, local sentences may actually apply to crimes that include a variety of offenses that would strike many civilians as far from trivial or otherwise non-serious/ non-violent. Among them: Involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, killing or injuring a police officer while resisting arrest, participating in a lynching, possession of weapons of mass destruction, possessing explosives, threatening a witness or juror, and using arson or explosives to terrorize a health facility or church. Assault, battery, statutory rape and sexual exploitation by doctors or psychotherapists are also covered by the prison realignment law and carry sentences that will be served in a county jail instead of in one of California’s state prisons.

Among those who could be affected by the new sentencing law, if convicted, is Dr. Conrad Murray, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson. Murray is charged with giving Jackson a fatal dose of the powerful surgical anesthetic propofol and other sedatives to help the singer sleep. Murray’s attorneys say Jackson gave himself the fatal dose after his doctor left the room in June 2009. Some legal experts say he would serve his maximum four-year sentence in a Los Angeles County jail instead of state prison.

Although the length of sentences won’t necessarily change, the realignment law does offer some significant differences for inmates.  Parole will disappear for offenders who serve their terms in county jails. Offenders who serve their full sentences behind bars will not be supervised once they are released. Parole officers will not be tracking their movements or making sure they comply with conditions such as substance abuse treatment.  Judges now also have the discretion to impose “hybrid” or “split sentences” in which offenders serve part of their sentence in county jail and the rest on what is being called “mandatory supervision,” overseen by probation officers.  Sentencing more serious offenders to jail rather than state prison will likely force counties that already have crowded jails to release less serious offenders who are serving time for crimes such as auto theft, burglary, grand theft, forgery, counterfeiting and drug crimes.

Republican lawmakers who have been critical of the realignment law reacted harshly to the list of more serious crimes that will be handled locally rather than by state prisons. Conversely, many law enforcement officials have defended the new law, saying it is important to look at the underlying facts of a case before passing judgment on its seriousness.

If this revamped law works in California will Washington follow suit? Only time will tell. Washington has its own significant jail over-crowding issues, and is continually attempting to reduce spending on inmate incarceration.

If you or a loved one is cited or charged with a crime in Western Washington (whether as a primary aggressor or as an accomplice) it is imperative that a Seattle criminal attorney be retained as soon as possible to ensure all personal, professional and financial interests are protected. Seattle criminal defense lawyers Greg Schwesinger and Saad Qadri of SQ Attorneys represent those individuals criminally charged through all phases of their Washington State criminal case. The Seattle criminal attorneys of SQ Attorneys are experienced and proven negotiators that make a world of difference for those accused of committing a crime. SQ Attorneys is a team of seasoned Seattle criminal lawyers that work tireless to achieve the best possible outcome for each and every client they have the honor of representing. Arrested for committing a crime in Western Washington? Call The Criminal Defense Team of SQ Attorneys at (206) 441-0900 or (425) 998-8384 for an initial free consultation.

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