Currently, gun enhancement laws, Penal Code 12022.5 and 12022.53, require mandatory additional terms of three years to 25-to-life for each victim. These enhancements often mean serving long consecutive sentences for crimes committed with a firearm.
For example, an armed robbery, which carries about five years, would net an additional mandatory 10-year sentence if committed with a gun.
“…the number of privately held firearms in America has nearly doubled in the last two decades, while the number of gun murders per capita was cut in half.”Reason Magazine December 2017 REASON.COM
“This bill would delete the prohibition on striking an allegation or finding and, instead, would allow a court, in the interest of justice and at the time of sentencing or resentencing, to strike an enhancement otherwise required to be imposed by the above provisions of law,” states Senate Bill 620, introduced by State Sen. Steve Bradford.
In most cases, these enhancements carry much more time than the primary crime committed, and they can force people into taking stiff plea deals. This was the case with Jerome Watts, currently incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.
Watts felt pressured to take a deal for 25 years because he faced multiple life sentences that were mandatory under charges involving an attempted robbery that turned into an attempted murder with the use of a gun.
“This bill would delete the prohibition on striking an allegation…”
In 2007, he and two co-defendants attempted to commit a robbery. One of them shot the victim in the back; however, tests taken right after the crime revealed Watts did not have any gunshot residue on him. There was gunshot residue found on Watts’ co-defendants, according to a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department scientific services bureau laboratory report.
Pressured by the threat of multiple life sentences and the victim’s identification of Watts as the shooter, he took a deal for 25 years, which included 20 years for the personal use of a gun to commit the crime.
“I was scared into taking that deal because the victim pointed me out as the shooter, and they said I would get 64-to-life if I went to trial and lost,” Watts said.
Watts was 23 years old at the time, and he said the attempted robbery was his first offense. Since then, Watts said he’s doing everything he can to better himself, including taking college courses with the Prison University Program, a financial literacy class, painting in the Arts-in-Corrections program, acting with Marin Shakespeare and working in the kitchen.
“I feel so remorseful for what I did, and it drives me to focus on doing positive things to help the community,” Watts said. “I have changed — I’ve taken anger management and also learned sign language. I’m taking steps to have a brighter future by voluntarily taking programs.”
For questions or comments about Senate Bill 620, contact Sue Kateley, Legislative Director, Office of Senator Steve Bradford, State Capitol, Room 2062; Sacramento, CA 95814 or firstname.lastname@example.org.