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California Legislature

Gov. Brown gives judges discretion over when to lengthen prison sentences in gun crimes

 (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed a bill that allows judges to decide against imposing prison sentencing enhancements of 10 or more years in cases where firearms are used in committing a felony.

State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) introduced the measure, saying public safety is not served by the current mandate for enhancements, which come in the form of an additional sentence of 10 years, 20 years or life in prison.

“Far too many people of color are disproportionately impacted by our state’s overly punitive sentencing laws, which tie the hands of our judges,” Bradford said after the signing. “We must provide judges with the same level of discretion at sentencing as we afford prosecutors when filing charges.” 

The governor drew criticism Wednesday from state Senate Republican leader Patricia Bates of Laguna Niguel for signing the measure a little more than a week after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas.

“In light of the Las Vegas massacre, it makes no sense for the governor to sign a bill that would give judges the ability to reduce sentences for criminals who use guns,” Bates said. “Any criminal who used a gun to terrorize individuals, families and communities deserves the maximum sentence available.”

Brown acted, his office said, to “restore the power of judges to impose criminal sentences.”

The measure was opposed by some criminal justice leaders including Michele Hanisee, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, which represents 1,000 prosecutors for Los Angeles County.

“The illegal use of guns to kill or wound innocent victims is a tragic story that occurs far too often,” Hanisee said recently in urging a veto. “Mandatory punishment for using a gun during a violent crime is right and just.”

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