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California law changed to affect previous juvenile offenders

A new ruling to the state's realignment law means that a prison sentence instead of jail time may be mandated for some people who were previously charged with a juvenile crime. Up until the ruling, the realignment law had been meant to follow a U.S. Supreme Court order to reduce California's prison costs, address overcrowding issues by lowering the population by 33,000, and improve the health care of inmates. Realignment aimed to achieve these goals by sending lower-level felons to the county jail, rather than prison.

The new ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal takes California's three-strike law into consideration. Now lower-level felons can still be sent to prison if they've previously been convicted of serious juvenile crimes. With the three-strike law, adults who commit less severe felonies are required to serve prison time even if they received one or more of their serious convictions as juveniles.

The way this ruling can affect some low-level offenders is shown in the case of a Ventura County man. After he was sent to the California Youth Authority at age 17, he received two additional counts against his record for setting fire to juvenile hall and injuring a CYA counselor at age 18. Because of the three-strike law, he was sentenced to six years in prison for striking the counselor, twice the term he would have received without the change to the realignment law. His public defender says he plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

With these changes, those who are charged with less serious crimes may be affected by convictions that occurred years ago. If this occurs, it may be beneficial to speak with a defense attorney.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "Ruling affects former juvenile offenders," Bob Egelko, Feb. 26, 2013

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