By Robert J Hansen
Woodland, CA – The Yolo District Attorney’s office through its Conviction and Sentence Review unit has reviewed and modified 15 state prison sentences since 2019.
Since 2019, AB 2942 has allowed District Attorneys the ability to re-evaluate sentences of individuals serving time in state prison.
Yolo DA Jeff Reisig and his office partnered with For the People (FPL) to revisit certain lengthy prison sentences that, although not erroneous, are no longer in the interest of justice, according to the Yolo DA website.
“A prosecutor’s role is to ensure that our system achieves justice which includes not only convicting and sentencing the guilty appropriately but also guaranteeing the protection of the innocent,” Reisig said in an August press release. “The Conviction and Sentencing Review Unit helps us to attain both of these goals.”
Jose Duran, 31, said at last week’s Common’s Town Hall that he was released last year through prosecutor-initiated resentencing.
Duran is one of 15 people who have had their sentences reduced by the Yolo County DA and have been released from prison since 2019.
In 2012 he was sentenced to 21 years to life at the age of 20 years old.
Duran said three years ago he couldn’t have imagined that he would be out of prison in 2023.
“In the back of my mind I thought I was going to get out one day,” Duran said. “I knew somebody was going to help me but I didn’t know when that was going to be.”
He thought that he would be at least 45 or maybe 50 years old before he would be released from prison.
“I never gave up, stayed positive and used the resources that were available to me,” Duran said.
Kaitlin Vaughn was the first woman that was resentenced under prosecutor-initiated resentencing.
Kaitlin said prison was a wake-up call and committed to sobriety and programming and after her mother reached out to the Yolo DA’s office, it petitioned for resentencing.
Vaughn was released from prison in April 2022.
“I just wanted to say thank you for having me today and thank you for giving me a chance,” Vaughn told the judge when she was released. “It means the world to me, and I will not, I will not, I promise, I will not let you down.”
Hilary Blout, founder of FTP, said her organization helps DA offices that want to review past convictions but lack the resources or expertise.
Blout, at the Commons Town Hall, said that over 200 people have been resentenced since 2019 under the new law.
Very few have reoffended, according to Blout.
“Less than one percent are struggling on their reentry journey,” Blout said. “Which is pretty remarkable when you think about some of the 40 to 60 percent recidivism rates for the general population.”
Blout said that those who are released have different levels of support and resources to help with their re-entry.
“We are fortunate they DA’s in California can access the Center for Employment Opportunity, for anyone released through this program can be connected to,” Blout said.
Part of conviction review includes the examination of certain lengthy prison terms to verify that they are still necessary, according to the Yolo DA’s office.
Some convictions, though valid, have prison terms that, after a thorough review, may prove to no longer be necessary to protect public safety because the ends of accountability, protection and rehabilitation are met.
“When it can be shown that a person’s drivers for committing the crime have been addressed since they’ve been in prison, it provides a lot of comfort for the DA’s offices that are looking at this and balancing public safety,” Blout said.
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Melinda Aiello oversees post-sentencing review and prosecutor-initiated resentencing for the Yolo DA.
“We get letters almost daily from sentenced individuals who become aware of changes in laws and ask us to take a look at their sentences,” Aiello said.
Aiello said victims play a crucial role in resentencing, are engaged and make every effort to contact them.
“If a victim objects to a resentencing we will not proceed,” Aiello said. “If we are convinced that public safety would not be jeopardized by an early release or if we believe the sentence no longer stands the test of time, we will petition the court for resentencing.”
Aiello said she has had these conversations with victims with various responses.
Some victims didn’t realize that the person was still in prison, some asked how they were doing and some victims said that they were comfortable with the DA’s decision, according to Aiello.
There are 14 California DA’s offices with a unit similar to Yolo’s conviction and review unit along with 39 offices across the country, according to Blout.
Yolo County Superior Court Judge Steven Mock denied a petition for resentencing for Michael Todd last August which would have reversed his 1996 murder conviction, according to a Yolo DA press release.
Todd argued that he did not participate in any physical beating of the victim and denied burning the victim. He claimed his actions did not contribute to the victim’s death and, as such, he did not act with malice.