How California Inmates Can Effectively Leverage the Newly-Passed AB 600 in Hopes of Obtaining a Resentencing Hearing
On October 8, 2023, Governor Newsome officially approved Assembly Bill 600 (“AB 600”), which is the latest criminal justice reform measure in California. Like many of the other recent changes in the state’s criminal justice system, AB 600 is designed to make it easier for inmates to obtain a resentencing hearing. This is bill is considered as Judicial Initiated Sentencing.
What Does AB 600 Do?
The AB 600 is a new California law that gives judges more discretion to order a resentencing hearing for inmates who have been convicted of serious crimes and who are serving lengthy prison sentences. To best understand how AB 600 works, it helps to have a solid grasp of how things worked before the bill was passed, as discussed below.
Resentencing Procedures Before the Passage of AB 600
Before Assembly Bill 600, judges only had legal authority to order a resentencing hearing under very specific circumstances. These situations fall into two basic categories. First, the judge could order a resentencing hearing if an inmate obtained the recommendation of either the district attorney of the county where the inmate was sentenced or the Board of Parole Hearings. Second, the judge could, on their own and without the recommendation of the district attorney or Board of Parole, decide to grant an inmate’s request for a resentencing hearing within 120 days of the inmate’s commitment to state prison. However, because resentencing petitions are often based on changes in the law and an inmate’s documented record of rehabilitation, 1172.1 was not often an effective resentencing mechanism because 120 is such a short timeframe. Moreover, often times, district attorneys offices would receive Penal Code 1172.1 Petitions and fail to recall the sentence, despite an inherit discrepancy with the sentence. This resulted in many individuals service time on now-invalid sentences.
The first situations typically arose when an inmate filed a petition under Cal. Penal Code § 1172.1, either with the district attorney or the Board of Parole. However, district attorneys and the Board of Parole have complete discretion whether to recommend a resentencing. Further, courts have since held that § 1172.1 lacks an enforcement mechanism requiring the district attorney or Board of Parole to even respond to an inmate’s petition.
As a result, many inmates have diligently prepared voluminous 1172.1 petitions, only to have the district attorney of the Board of Parole file them away without issuing a response. Certainly, this is not what lawmakers had in mind in structuring the language of § 1172.1, which is why the need for AB 600 arose.
How AB 600 Makes Obtaining a Resentencing Hearing Easier for Inmates
The main thrust of AB 600 is that it allows a judge to order a resentencing hearing for an inmate at any time without the recommendation of the district attorney of the Board of Parole. In fact, the preface to AB 600, which outlines the intent of the law, clearly states that “The bill would eliminate the requirement that the district attorney or Attorney General concur with the resentencing court’s decision to vacate the defendant’s conviction and resentence the defendant to a reduced term of imprisonment.”
Thus, once AB 600 becomes effective, inmates seeking a resentencing hearing would no longer be at the mercy of the district attorney of the Board of Parole and can instead present a petition directly to the court. In drafting AB 600, California Legislature specifically states:
It is the further intent of the Legislature that courts have full discretion in resentencing proceedings pursuant to Section 1172.1 of the Penal Code to reconsider past decisions to impose prior strikes. The list of factors considered in People v. Superior Court (Romero) (1996) 13 Cal.4th 497, is not exhaustive. Courts should consider Section 1385 of the Penal Code, post-conviction factors, or any other evidence that continued incarceration is no longer in the interests of justice.
When Will a Judge Grant a Resentencing Hearing Under AB 600?
Ab 600 specifically states that when a judge is reviewing a resentencing petition, they must consider “post-conviction factors,” including but not limited to:
- An inmate’s lack of a disciplinary record;
- An inmate’s record of rehabilitation;
- An inmate’s reduced risk of future violence, based on their age, length of incarceration, or diminished physical capacity; and
- Any evidence that the defendant’s incarceration is no longer in the interest of justice.
Thus, under AB 600, a judge has the authority to order a resentencing hearing if “the defendant’s incarceration is no longer in the interest of justice.” The following are examples that may indicate to the court that an inmate’s continued incarceration is no longer in the interest of justice:
- The law has changed and is currently more favorable to the inmate;
- The inmate’s constitutional rights were violated during his or her trial;
- Evidence exists that undermines the integrity of the inmate’s conviction or sentence;
- The inmate has experienced “psychological, physical, or childhood trauma, including, but not limited to, abuse, neglect, exploitation, or sexual violence”;
- The inmate was a victim of domestic violence or human trafficking; and
- The defendant was under 26 years old when the offense was committed.
While each of these is an important factor that a judge must consider, almost all inmates can benefit from the judge considering changes in the law since they were convicted. For example, any inmate who was convicted before 2019 and is serving enhancement time can argue that the passage of SB 1393 and SB 483, which collectively grant judges the ability to strike an enhancement, justifies a resentencing hearing. Moreover, the application of Assembly Bill 333 and it’s changes on gang enhancements. The argument is that, at the time of sentencing, the trial judge lacked discretion to strike an enhancement that, today, a judge would be able to strike.
Are You Interested in Learning More About AB 600 and Its Potential Impact on Your Sentence?
If you or a loved one are currently serving a lengthy prison sentence, the passage of AB 600 is welcome news. However, judges will likely be flooded with petitions for resentencing once AB 600 becomes effective, so it is essential that inmates ensure their petitions are exceptional and have gone through the proper procedural channels. At Power Trial Lawyers, P.C. and Power Trial Lawyers, P.C., our Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyers have experience successfully obtaining resentencing hearings on behalf of our clients.
To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give Power Trial Lawyers and Power Trial Lawyers, P.C. a call at 213-800-7664. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form.