SB 40 and Supreme Court Cunningham Decision

In January 2007 the Supreme Court ruled in Cunningham v. California that California’s laws which allowed sentencing judges to impose enhanced sentences based on their determination of facts not found by the jury violated the Sixth Amendment. Juries not judges are supposed to decide the truth of sentencing factors used to increase a person’s sentence. This ruling potentially impacts ten thousand people in California prisons.
Senator Gloria Romero authored SB40 as a two-year, “quick fix” which gives the authority back to the judges to decide sentencing factors so long as the judge states a “reason” supporting his or her decision. Romero claimed that requiring juries to decide additional facts would overburden the jury system. In reality, Romero, the legislature which voted for SB40 and Governor Schwarzenegger who signed it were worried that the Cunningham decision would overturn the lengthy sentences of thousands of prisoners and result in their release.
Prisoners who filed petitions under Cunningham before SB40 went into effect on March 30th still have an opportunity to have their cases reviewed in court. SB40 disproportionately impacts Blacks, Latinos and other people of color. There have been a large number of studies demonstrating huge disparities between the length of sentences given out to people of color in comparison to those of white people.
The constitutionality of SB40 is being challenged in court. SB40 has a sunset provision of January 1, 2009 – it will no longer be in effect as of that date.
Assemblymembers Mark Leno, Sandre Swanson, Loni Hancock, Chuck Devore and Fiona Ma voted NO on SB 40. Senators Tom McClintock and Carole Migden also voted NO.
SB40 is a manipulative political ploy aimed at keeping thousands of prisoners locked up even at a time when California?s prisons are criminally overcrowded!
Please write The Fire Inside with stories about sentences that are potentially impacted by the Cunningham decision.