What happens in California when someone commits a crime with a firearm?
When someone commits a crime with a firearm in this state, if that person is convicted, the “10-20-Life” sentencing enhancement can be imposed.
You’re about to learn exactly how the sentencing enhancement is applied – and what you should do if you are accused of using a firearm to commit a crime in the state of California.
Some California firearm laws restrict an individual’s right to possess a firearm. Other state laws penalize those who have used firearms to commit crimes.
WHAT IS THE 10-20-LIFE ENHANCEMENT?
Until recently, defendants who used a firearm to commit particular criminal offenses in California were sentenced to mandatory time in prison under the 10-20-Life enhancement.
California adopted the 10-20-Life enhancement – popularly called “Use A Gun and You’re Done” – in the 1990s to deter criminals from using guns to commit crimes.
However, California lawmakers subsequently responded to an outcry over the negative impact of the 10-20-Life enhancement, and they’ve made some key changes.
HOW HAS THE 10-20-LIFE ENHANCEMENT BEEN CHANGED?
One important change is that judges in California now have the discretion to ignore the 10-20-Life enhancement in particular cases.
However, if you use a gun to commit a felony in California, and you are convicted of that crime, you may still face the 10-20-Life enhancement.
If you use a gun to commit one of a large number of violent felonies specified in California law, you will probably be sentenced to additional time in prison under the 10-20-Life enhancement.
The violent felonies that can trigger a 10-20-Life enhancement include murder, mayhem, kidnapping, robbery, rape, and a variety of other violent felonies.
EXACTLY HOW DOES THE 10-20-LIFE SENTENCING ENHANCEMENT WORK?
The length of a sentencing enhancement depends on how a gun is used in the commission of a crime.
If someone in the act of committing a violent felony displays, brandishes, or strikes someone with a firearm, an enhancement of up to ten years in prison can be added to the sentence for the violent felony conviction.
It does not even matter if the firearm works or if there’s ammunition in it. Simply displaying a firearm while committing a violent felony can trigger the sentencing enhancement.
If someone intentionally discharges a firearm – that is, pulls the trigger – while committing a violent felony in California, an enhancement of up to twenty years may be added to the sentence for the violent felony conviction.
WHAT ABOUT “WARNING” SHOTS?
An armed robber who fires a warning shot could serve an additional twenty years. Critics of the mandatory 10-20-Life enhancement have argued that twenty years is a harsh punishment when the gun used in a crime does not actually, directly hurt anyone.
If someone uses a firearm to commit a violent felony, and that firearm is discharged causing another person’s death or great bodily harm, an enhancement of up to twenty-five years can be added to the sentence for the underlying violent felony conviction.
The injury or fatality in such a case does not have to be caused directly by the firearm.
If pulling a trigger sets off events that lead to another person’s death or great bodily harm, the person committing the felony and discharging the firearm may be considered the proximate cause of the injury or death.
HOW DID SENATE BILL 620 CHANGE SENTENCING ENHANCEMENTS?
Critics have contended that enhancements punish inmates twice for a single crime and contribute to the overcrowding of California’s prison system.
In 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill 620 into law. Senate Bill 620 amends the original 10-20-Life legislation and gives judges more discretion in individual cases without eliminating the 10-20-Life enhancement.
Since January 1, 2018, judges in California may choose to ignore the 10-20-Life sentencing enhancement when they are acting in what the law calls the “interest of justice.”
“SB 620 is a critical step toward a more fair and equitable justice system in California,” according to Lizzie Buchen, speaking for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.
“We will save lives, instead of throwing them away,” said State Senator Steven Bradford, who sponsored Senate Bill 620.
Senator Bradford’s research showed that more than 30,000 inmates were in California prisons strictly on the basis of mandatory sentencing enhancements.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED WHEN JUDGES IMPOSE ENHANCEMENTS?
But with the passage of Senate Bill 620, California judges now review individually each felony case involving a firearm to determine if a sentencing enhancement is appropriate.
The details of the underlying felony and the defendant’s prior criminal history, if any, are among the factors that a judge will take into account when determining if a sentencing enhancement is appropriate.
In southern California, if you are charged with any felony that involved the use of a firearm, and if you are convicted, your sentence could be enhanced under the 10-20-Life sentencing enhancement.
HOW CAN A DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP?
You’ll need legal advice and representation at once if you are charged with a felony that involved the use of a firearm. You’ll need to contact an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney immediately.
Because a 10-20-Life sentencing enhancement can only be imposed if you are convicted of a violent felony, avoiding a felony conviction is imperative, and the right criminal defense lawyer will fight aggressively to help you avoid a felony conviction.
Your attorney will investigate the alleged crime, gather evidence, question witnesses, and look for a weakness in the state’s case against you. Your lawyer will fight to have the charge reduced or dismissed entirely.
But even if the evidence against you is strong and a conviction is certain, you’ll still need a good lawyer to fight the possible sentencing enhancement that you’ll face after a felony conviction.
In fact, if you are convicted of a felony that involved the use of a firearm, your attorney will ask for reduced or alternative sentencing – and will strongly fight against any sentencing enhancement in your case.
WHAT DOES CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM REALLY MEAN?
California is leading the nation in criminal justice reform.
A number of crimes that were previously felonies are now misdemeanors in this state. California’s cash bail system will probably disappear in the next few years. Pretrial diversion programs are expanding and appear to be succeeding.
Reform, however, doesn’t mean that laws aren’t strictly enforced or that courts will be lenient with convicted offenders.
If you are charged with a felony in southern California, you still must have the help of an experienced Orange County criminal defense attorney – because your freedom and your future will be at stake.