California panel urges changes to reduce criminal sentences

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) – California lawmakers unveiled a proposal today that could give some criminals on death row or facing life without parole an opportunity to be resentenced.

“Severe punishments like these have driven the mass incarceration crisis that has destroyed lives, families,” State Senator Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, said. 

State Senator David Cortese is hoping to bring an end to life without parole for those convicted of felony murder with special circumstances.

Current law requires either a death sentence or life without parole for those convicted.

Felony murder is when a death happens, intentionally or not, in the process of a felony, like a robbery or a burglary, the harshest sentences are then handed down to the person who directly caused the death and the accomplices.

SB300 would change the law, allowing for another sentence other than death or life without parole to those who, in the process of a felony, did not kill anyone or intend for anyone to die.

“The special circumstances sentencing scheme reflects the worst tendencies of our criminal justice system and overwhelmingly impacts people of color,” Cortese said.

“My codefendant went free,” Tammy Garvin-Cooper said.

Tammy Garvin-Cooper spent 28 years in prison after being convicted of felony murder as an accomplice. She was granted clemency three years ago.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here at all, I was supposed to die in prison, die in a casket, and never come back out to the world,” Garvin-Cooper said.

If passed, the bill could allow thousands already facing a felony murder charge with special circumstances to petition for resentencing.

Some crime victims advocate groups were still reviewing the legislation Tuesday. The California District Attorneys’ Association was not available for comment.

The bill is awaiting a committee assignment to be heard at the state capitol. It will need a two-thirds vote from the legislature to pass.

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