A Guide to Sentencing Enhancements in CaliforniaSan Diego Legal News
Being accused and/or convicted of a crime is a very serious and life-altering experience. In the State of California, criminal offenses carry a series of protocols or enhancements that can result in a harsher punishment if proven in a court of law. Sentencing enhancements, also known as aggravating factors, allow a judge, upon the discovery of additional inculpatory evidence, to increase the length of time that a defendant spends in prison for a crime. If you have been accused or convicted of a crime in the San Diego area and are facing sentencing enhancements, you need a competent criminal defense attorney to handle your case to prevent elongated incarceration.
Types of Enhancements
Weapons: If a crime is committed with the use or threatened use of a weapon, the sentencing for that crime will increase according to the appropriate sentencing guidelines. In California, for example, a firearm does not have to be engaged or in operation during the commission of a crime for the enhancement to be attached. Depending on the type of firearm used and the type of crime, sentencing can range from 3 to 20 years.
Prior Convictions: A defendant accused or convicted of a crime can face additional sentencing for prior convictions on their record. In California, under the Three Strikes Law, a defendant can gain a “strike prior,” or a serious felony offense, under the California Penal Code, sections 667.5 (c) and 1192.7 (c). If a defendant receives one strike, sentencing is at the discretion of the judge overseeing the case. If a defendant is found guilty of a second strike, he must serve at least 80% of what the sentencing guidelines demand of that offense. If there is a third strike for any felony offense, regardless of magnitude, a sentence of 25 years to life must be imposed. Prior convictions are among the most dangerous of detrimental enhancements and a very skilled criminal defense lawyer is often required to deal with the complexity of these matters.
Hate Crimes: A crime is typically classified as a hate crime if it was committed with the intent of targeting a specific group of citizens based on their race, sex, religion, or any other minority and/or protected group of individuals. The State of California specifically classifies a hate crime as any criminal act that was committed in a part or whole due to the actual or perceived characteristics of the victim in the following categories: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics. Hate crimes can enhance sentences significantly if attached to a lesser felony.
Gang Crimes: California law identifies a gang as a group of three or more individuals that engage in criminal activity as one of its primary activities, with a common identifying symbol and/or name. In 1988, California passed the Stop Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, or STEP, which forms the basis for California gang enhancements. Gang-related enhancements can range from an additional year in county jail to three years in state prison. If you are in the San Diego area and are facing potential gang enhancements, you need a capable criminal defense attorney to minimize your time behind bars.
Protecting Your Rights
Criminal enhancements can exacerbate an already stressful situation. Being charged or convicted of a crime, depending on the circumstances, can have a devastating effect on your life and livelihood, the prospect of incarceration is incredibly daunting. Criminal enhancements can turn seemingly innocuous or low-level punishment into a lengthy jail or prison sentence. In order to ensure that you have the best representation for your case, you need the best quality criminal defense attorney at your service. If you are in the San Diego area and are facing criminal enhancements, contact the Coastal Legal Center for a free consultation at 619-231-0724.