Sentence Modifications in California
We Can Help Modify Terms of Any Existing Criminal Sentence
If you or a loved one has been convicted for a criminal offense and sentenced by a California judge, there may still be hope that the current sentence is not the last word on the matter. There are processes for requesting a judge to take a second look at a sentence imposed and, if there was an error made or other compelling reason, the judge may choose to reduce or alter the sentence.
At the Law Office of Paul Tyler, we handle dozens of sentence modifications each year. We have a thorough knowledge of California criminal law and a healthy relationship with judges throughout Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. We know what judges look for when considering whether to modify a sentence, and we care about our clients. If you have grounds to modify your criminal sentence, California criminal defense attorney Paul Tyler can help.
Petition to Modify a Sentence
Any person who has been convicted and sentenced can file a “motion for resentencing” (MFR) seeking to modify the terms of their sentence. The petitioner may seek to have the sentence reduced or modified. The motion is available for petitioners convicted of misdemeanors or felonies, regardless of whether the petitioner is actively incarcerated. The motion might seek modifications including, for example, conditions of house arrest or parole, location of incarceration, changing the terms or timeframe for paying a fine, among other things.
In response to the motion, the court may:
- Change the sentence
- Postpone the sentence
- Revoke the sentence
- Issue a stay of payment of fines
Prisoners can file an MFR on their own behalf, but it is highly recommended that they retain a qualified criminal defense attorney to draft and file the motion. An attorney can help gather the strongest evidence and present the most compelling argument in favor of a sentence modification, based on knowledge of the law, the courts, and experience with prior cases.
When Can a Sentence Be Changed?
A judge has the power to alter a sentence before the sentence has been entered into the minutes and before the defendant has begun serving the sentence. Once a sentence has been entered, then the judge must rely on some specific statute to modify a sentence.
A judge can entertain an MFR at any time after the petitioner has been convicted and sentenced, provided that there is good cause for the motion. A judge can also decide on its own behalf to modify a sentence within 120 calendar days of sentencing.
Grounds for Modifying a Sentence
Courts are willing to modify a sentence most commonly under the following circumstances:
- There was a clerical error. For example, the clerk entered the wrong jail term.
- The sentence imposed was illegal under California or federal law.
- The court committed judicial error, for example, in weighing the evidence or considering certain factors.
- The law has changed since the inmate was sentenced, and the new law applies retroactively.
Recent Changes in California Law that Affect Sentencing
There have been a few laws recently passed that may be used to alter existing sentences:
- SB 1437 changed California’s felony murder law, and applies retroactively.
- Prop 47 reduced penalties for certain theft and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, and applies to inmates currently facing felony punishment.
- Prop 36 changed California’s “three strikes law” to reduce the sentence for nonviolent and non-serious offenses, and applies retroactively.
- Prop 64 legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and provides for retroactive resentencing (or reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor, or from a misdemeanor to an infraction) for inmates currently serving marijuana convictions.
Clemency or Pardon
In addition to asking the court to modify a sentence, you may have reason to seek “clemency” or a “pardon” for your crime. Petitions for clemency or pardon involve asking the highest executive official to either pardon you for the crime, eliminating your conviction entirely, or commute your sentence and release you from prison. For state crimes, you would seek the help of the Governor of California. For federal crimes, you would ask the President of the United States. Both California and the federal government have processes in place for inmates to apply for pardons. Pardons are rare, but they may be a last-ditch effort to seek relief for non-violent, low-level offenses.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has shown willingness to pardon some low-level drug offenders. Former President Barack Obama was willing to grant clemency to certain nonviolent offenders who were serving long prison sentences for crimes that were punished much more harshly in previous decades, provided that the inmate would already have finished serving their time had they been sentenced under current law. That program has been largely discontinued under the current federal administration, but it may resume under future presidents.
Consult California Criminal Defense Attorney Paul Tyler About Your Criminal Sentence Modification
If you need help obtaining a modification to your criminal sentence, please call Attorney Paul Tyler at 805-889-9000. He will answer your call personally, assess your case, and tell you if the court is likely to grant the particular modification you are seeking. Call now for a free consultation.