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California Court of Appeal Reverses Denial of Full Resentencing Under SB 483

by Matt Clarke

The Court of Appeal of California, Sixth Appellate District, issued an opinion reversing a trial court’s refusal to apply Senate Bill (“SB”) 483 to a previously-remanded sentence. It also held that the trial court was not required to strike a prior serious felony enhancement.

An 86-count indictment charged Wally Renteria and more than a score of other people with crimes in connection with a criminal street gang. He pleaded guilty to participating in a criminal street gang and offering to sell a controlled substance. A jury convicted him on 16 other counts involving drugs, assault, and firearms. It also found true a gang enhancement allegation, and the trial court found a prior serious felony conviction resulting in imprisonment that triggered additional enhancements.

The trial court sentenced him to a total of 34 years’ imprisonment, including eight years for the gang and serious felony conviction enhancements. It stayed the prior prison term enhancement. Renteria timely appealed.

The Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence, holding that the prior prison term enhancement should be stricken because of SB 136’s amendments to Penal Code § 667.5, limiting such enhancements to sexually violent offenses. It also vacated the mandatory five-year prior serious felony enhancement in light of SB 1393, which amended § 1385 to give trial courts discretion to strike enhancements in the furtherance of justice.

On remand, Renteria requested full resentencing pursuant to several newly enacted statutes. The trial court refused to apply the new laws, reasoning that SB 483 does not apply because the prior prison term enhancement had been stayed and not “imposed” as SB 483 requires (SB 483 addresses enhancements for prior prison terms imposed under prior sentencing law). It also ruled that “public safety” and “the interest of justice” weighed against striking the enhancement in light of the “totality of the circumstances,” which included how recent the prior conviction was, the large quantity of drugs, his gang activities, his violence, and his involvement of minors in his crimes.

With the assistance of attorneys James S. Thomson and Laura Ann Douglas, Renteria timely appealed the trial court’s amended judgment. The Court of Appeal determined and the People conceded that SB 483 squarely applied. Suspended enhancements have been “imposed.” People v. Gonzalez, 184 P.3d 702 (Cal. 2008).Further, the Court ruled that resentencing should take place under the sentencing laws enacted alongside SB 483.

This includes SB 567, which amended § 1170 to create a presumptive sentence of the middle term in determinate sentences and requires the imposition of the lower term if the defendant “experienced … childhood trauma” that was a contributing factor to the commission of the offense. § 1170(b)(6). The Court noted that Renteria had introduced such evidence.

The Court determined that Assembly Bill 518, which amended § 654 to permit sentencing to less than the longest potential term of imprisonment when a crime is punished under multiple provisions, should also be applied. This applied to a count for gang activity that overlaps with a count for accessory after the fact felony assault and a count for offering to sell cocaine.

The Court rejected Renteria’s claim that amended § 1385 requires dismissal of the prior felony sentence enhancement, holding that the trial court had discretion to decline to strike the enhancement “upon a showing by clear and convincing evidence the dismissal of an enhancement would endanger public safety.” Despite some conflicting language in the statute, four other appellate courts have reached the same conclusion.

However, the issue is currently pending in the California Supreme Court, People v. Walker, 2023 Cal. LEXIS 1459 (March 22, 2023). In its opinion granting review, the Supreme Court framed the issue as follows: “Does the amendment to Penal Code section 1385, subdivision (c) that requires trial courts to “afford great weight” to enumerated mitigating circumstances (Stats. 2021, ch. 721) create a rebuttable presumption in favor of dismissing an enhancement unless the trial court finds dismissal would endanger public safety?” The Supreme Court has not issued its opinion in this case as of the date this article went to print.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of conviction, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. See: People v. Renteria, 96 Cal. App. 5th 1276 (2023).  

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Related legal case

People v. Renteria

 

 

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