Wednesday, January 7, 2015
C.A. Rejects Delays in Three-Strikes Resentencing Decisions
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A judge facing the decision of whether or not to resentence an inmate serving a three-strikes term cannot delay the decision for a substantial period of time as an inducement to a defendant to improve his or behavior, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Granting mandate relief to prosecutors in a pair of cases, Div. Two ordered that resentencing petitions be denied based on the trial judge’s findings that the inmates were too dangerous, as of their hearing dates, to be released.
Under Proposition 36, the Three Strikes Reform Act approved by voters in November 2012, a previously sentenced defendant may petition for resentencing if he or she meets the requirements for a non-three-strikes sentence under the new law. The burden then shifts to prosecutors, if they oppose reducing the sentence, to prove that there is an unreasonable risk that the defendant will be dangerous to the public if released.
In one of the cases ruled on yesterday, Riverside Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan ordered that hearing on Ricky Burton’s petition be continued for two years. Burton, sentenced in 2001 on a drug dealing charge, had prior convictions for robbery and burglary, resulting from an armed home invasion.
Prosecutors argued that the seriousness of the priors, the defendant’s gang membership, and his poor record in prison were sufficient to establish the requisite dangerousness. Dugan said she was inclined to agree, but said she would continue the hearing in order to see whether the defendant could rehabilitate himself in prison through drug treatment, completion of his high school education, and disassociation from the gang.
Prosecutors objected on the ground that Proposition 36 does not provide for “deferment” of sentence.
In the other case—that of Michael D. Williams, convicted in 1998 for being a felon in possession of a firearm—the defendant had two “strikes” for assault and had admitted gang membership. In one of the cases, prosecutors noted, Williams and other gang members stabbed, beat, and kicked the victim in retaliation for a stabbing carried out by another gang.
Prosecutors also noted that Williams had committed numerous violations of prison rules, and wound up being placed in administrative segregation at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Riverside Superior Court Judge Michele Levine ruled that the petition be held in abeyance for one year so that Williams could be given the opportunity to prove he was no longer dangerous.
Presiding Justice Manuel Ramirez, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judges had no authorization to do what they did. Proposition 36, he said, contemplates that a defendant be given a single opportunity to seek resentencing.
Continuances, he acknowledged, are normally permitted at a judge’s discretion, but only for administrative purposes, such as to enable a party to obtain additional evidence or to accommodate calendaring needs. But this authority cannot be stretched so far that the trial court is “assuming unto itself the authority of a parole board to evaluate and reevaluate the danger” posed by the defendant,” he said.
The cases are People v. Superior Court (Burton), 14 S.O.S. 63 and People v. Superior Court (Williams), 14 S.O.S. 66.
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