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CA Nonviolent Drug Offenders No Longer Face Mandatory Prison

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new law that ends minimum mandatory drug sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and gives judges more latitude to impose alternative sentences like probation and treatment. The law goes into effect in January 2022.

New Law Has Advocates and Opponents

Like most laws, this change is celebrated in some corners and denounced in others.

The new law is the result of Senate Bill 73, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco. He argued that the state’s jails and prisons are filled with people convicted of low-level, nonviolent drug offenses. Eliminating mandatory minimum prison for these offenders would help alleviate mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects people of color. Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo of Los Angeles authored a similar bill that failed in 2019. She also worked with Sen. Wiener on this latest version along with Assemblymembers Sydney Kamlager of Los Angeles, David Chiu of San Francisco, Buffy Wicks of Oakland, and Sen. Steven Bradford of Los Angeles.

Sen. Wiener said in a statement, “The racist, failed War on Drugs has helped build our system of mass incarceration, and we must dismantle and end its vestiges, which are still in place today. War on Drugs policies are ineffective, inhumane, and expensive.”

Detractors include the California Association of Highway Patrolmen and the California Police Chiefs Association. They believe mandatory sentences are an effective deterrent and removing required prison time makes streets and communities less safe.

Being charged with any type of criminal offense is still serious. If you are facing drug charges in the Newport Beach area, you need an attorney with experience and a track record of success. Call (949) 251-0330 to schedule a consultation with a skilled lawyer at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC.

Mandated Prison Requirements

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws denied judges the discretion to sentence people convicted of drug charges to probation, electronic monitoring, treatment, or other alternatives. The mandatory sentences range from two to seven or more years, depending on the offense. Second offenses had even more stringent sentencing requirements.

Previous Steps to Reduce Prison Population

The law taking effect in 2022 is not the only change in recent years aimed at reducing the prison population.

Changes to sentencing guidelines in the last decade include the following:

  • 2021 Senate Bill 81 was signed into law that reduces the number of sentence enhancements in criminal cases that can double prison time. Previously, more than 150 aggravating factors could tack on additional prison time.
  • 2021 Senate Bill 317 allows mentally ill people who are in a treatment facility to earn good behavior credits.
  • 2021 Senate Bill 775 expands a 2019 law that no longer allowed all accomplices to be convicted of murder. Only those who intended to kill or directly participated in the crime could be convicted of murder. The 2021 law expands the eligibility of resentencing to those convicted voluntary manslaughter and attempted murder.
  • 2020 Assembly Bill 3234 lowered the requirements to participate in the Elderly Parole Program. Instead of a minimum age of 60 and having served a minimum of 25 consecutive years, the new requirements are age 50 and having served a minimum of 20 consecutive years.
  • Proposition 47, passed by California voters in November 2014, reclassified some nonviolent drug and property crimes to misdemeanors. Previously, they were felonies or “wobblers” (crimes that could be treated as either a misdemeanor or felony for sentencing purposes).
  • 2012’s Proposition 36 amended the state’s “three strikes” law, imposing a life sentence only when the new felony conviction is “serious or violent.”

Additional legislative and voter-approved changes may still be on the horizon.

Comprehensive Experience in CA Drug Laws

As defense attorneys, we appreciate the changes that help keep nonviolent offenders out of jail. That said, drug laws and sentencing guidelines are still consequential. If you are facing drug charges of any kind, the rest of your life can be affected. Difficulties in finding work or housing are a couple of the most significant impacts.

At Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC, we have more than 100 years of combined experience, providing tailored defense strategies for our clients. We proudly represent clients throughout Orange County in Newport Beach, Westminster, Santa Ana, and Fullerton.

We are available 24/7 to answer your call. Contact us at (949) 251-0330 or use our online form to schedule an initial consultation.