By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – This week I was talking with someone who has been working on resentencing issues in another community, and they remarked how powerful a tool PC § 1170(d) actually is. But it only works when you have a prosecutor who is committed to getting people released who have been serving excessively long sentences.
As Robert Hansen reported this week, nearly half of the California prison population (46 percent) have served at least ten years in prison according to a 2021 report by For the People.org.
“It’s cost over a hundred thousand dollars per year to have somebody incarcerated,” Hilary Blout, Founder and Executive Director of For the People said.
The cost of that is staggering and many of those people could be released and pose no threat to their communities.
Section 1170(d) represents a tool that prosecutors can use to release people from prison whom they deem possible to safely release. But it’s a tool that most DAs are simply not utilizing.
Wait. Ten? That’s like three a year. Even Blout seemed a bit taken aback by that number.
To put it into perspective, when we interviewed the San Francisco DA’s office in July of 2020, more than 18 months ago, they had already released 15.
In fairness, as we have learned, the 1170(d) route is a slow process—it requires a motion to a judge who then has order the re-sentencing.
But, still, Reisig is trying to hang his hat as a reformer on the basis of just ten releases.
During the webinar, for example, Reisig said that there is still need a for prisons and people to be put into prison, “[b]ut not everybody and certainly not for the length of time that some of these people were during the tough on crime era,” Reisig said. “Sometimes I just say wow, that was way too long.”
And as Hansen’s article noted, “someone serving double digit sentences when nobody was harmed is not justice.”
“That’s not justice and we can do something to fix it with this law,” Reisig said.
I definitely agree with that sentiment. But unfortunately, I worry that there has been no acknowledgment overall of the injustice in some of these cases.
Take the case of Renwick Drake, whom we have covered quite extensively since his resentencing in October.
Renwick Drake was handed a sentence that he could not have received had the crime occurred this year. That’s because, under current law, Drake would not have been charged as an adult, having only been 15 at the time of the crime.
The law that prevents that, direct filing as an adult, Reisig has adamantly opposed.
Even taking that into account, the case was overcharged as attempted murder, and only the jury prevented that travesty. Even still, he got 23 years in prison for a case in which it screams understanding the need for a separate juvenile system.
“The West Covina native avoided an attempted murder charge, but in January 2012, a Yolo County jury convicted him of second-degree robbery and two counts of assault with a firearm. With seven different enhancements tied to those charges due to his gang affiliation and discharging a firearm, a judge sentenced Drake to 24 years in prison,” the article notes.
Ten years later, the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office successfully petitioned for his early release, citing his “remarkable rehabilitation.”
But that a 15-year-old spent ten years in prison for this is itself an injustice.
Drake is not alone. A recent report found that Yolo County is sixth in the state for the highest proportion of second- and third-strike cases. That means that there are a lot of people from Yolo County serving lengthy sentences and only a few have been released.
Take the case from 2011 where Rolando Arismendez, Juan Reyes and German Vizcarra were found guilty of a shooting on Donnelly Circle in Woodland. They fired on a residence which turned out to be empty at the time and received life sentences even though no one was home and no one was harmed.
By Reisig’s stated standards a lot of these types of cases could be resentenced, particularly since the people convicted have served well over a decade in prison.
Would Reisig consider cases where there are clear victims?
Hansen noted in his article, “Reisig said victims are a critical part of the analysis his office goes through when considering resentencing.
“Their opinion and their input is critical. We (prosecutors) have a special relationship with victims of crime. We don’t want to engage in a process that ignores them or re-traumatizes them at all,” Reisig said.
There is a lot of work to be done here. Ten is really just scratching the surface. Maybe not even that.