Overview of New Laws Affecting Inmates

Attorney Aaron Spolin

Spolin Law P.C. is led by award-winning appeals attorney and former prosecutor Aaron Spolin. One of his most recent successful outcomes was on a murder case sent to the state’s highest court.

The First Step Act is one of a number of new laws affecting state and federal inmates that allow for their early release. Some of the most important new laws affecting state or federal inmates in California are highlighted below.

  • The First Step Act — This new law allows for the early release of certain inmates who had been convicted in federal court. More information regarding this new law is outlined below, in the section Facts About the First Step Act.
  • SB 1437: Abolition of Felony Murder — This recently-passed law affects California state inmates who were originally charged with or convicted of “felony murder.” To read Spolin Law’s detailed article about SB 1437, click here: Getting Murder Charges Dismissed Under SB 1437.
  • Re-Sentencing Under AB 2942 — Starting January 1, 2019, California inmates can be re-sentenced to a lower sentence as a result of AB 2942. Under the process set up by this new law, a local district attorney’s office can recommend re-sentencing for certain offenders, which would result in a re-sentencing hearing in Superior Court. Learn more at: Re-Sentencing Under AB 2942.
  • Other Less Common Sentence-Reduction Options — There are numerous other methods by which inmates in California can reduce their sentences or otherwise challenge their convictions, including provisions that apply to inmates who were under the age of 26 at the time of the offense, inmates who have shown good behavior in prison, and inmates whose behavior or criminal conduct fits certain categories. Because of the complexity of some of these new (and old) laws, an individualized case review by a post-conviction lawyer or law firm would be the best starting point to see what options exist.

To learn about which options may apply to your case, you are welcome to contact us at (310) 424-5816.

(Please note: although we receive a large number of requests from families of inmates throughout the United States, we are only able to assist state or federal inmates in California and New York.)

  1. Overview of New Laws Affecting Inmates
  2. Facts about the First Step Act
  3. Other New Laws Affecting State Prisoners
  4. Winning an Inmate’s Freedom

Facts About the First Step Act

The First Step Act is federal legislation that improves the conditions and allows for early release of federal inmates who had been convicted in Federal District Court.

The Act was passed by the United States Senate on December 18, 2018, passed by the House of Representatives on December 20, 2018, and signed by President Donald Trump the next day, December 21, 2018.

Under the First Step Act, the following changes have occurred:

  1. Drug Crime Sentence Reduction: Sentences for inmates convicted of drug-related crimes are drastically reduced, as the First Step Act makes the previously-enacted Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. Before the First Step Act, the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act reducing sentences for drug crimes only applied to new cases (post-2010). But now, under the First Step Act, the sentence reduction provisions of the Fair Sentencing Act apply to all relevant drug convictions before 2010 as well as those convictions after 2010.
  2. Early Release Through “Good Conduct” Credit: Early release is more easily available based on “good conduct” credits. Inmates in federal prisons can now obtain 54 days of good conduct credit per year, which is higher than the amount obtainable before the First Step Act went into effect.
  3. Sick Inmates Can Be Released Early: The First Step Act expands the program of “compassionate release,” which allows terminally ill patients to be released early.
  4. Inmates Can Be Moved Closer to Family: In certain cases, inmates can be moved to prisons that are closer to family members, allowing for greater ease of contact and visits.
  5. Additional Protections for Female Inmates: Under the First Step Act, female inmates obtain greater protections, including a restriction on the use of restraints on pregnant women and greater availability of feminine hygiene products.

These changes will allow early release for certain inmates as well as quality-of-life improvements for others. To read more about how to use the First Step Act to aid an inmate, read the Winning an Inmate’s Freedom section below.

  1. Overview of New Laws Affecting Inmates
  2. Facts about the First Step Act
  3. Other New Laws Affecting State Prisoners
  4. Winning an Inmate’s Freedom

New Laws Affecting State Prisoners

The First Step Act affects federal prisoners only. That means that the Act only helps inmates who were convicted in Federal District Court as a result of violating federal law. However, the vast majority of inmates in the United States were convicted in state courts for violating state law. As a result, most inmates will not be able to obtain relief under the First Step Act and, instead, will have to find state laws that provide for early release.

In California, several new laws and court cases over the past few years have helped state inmates to reduce their sentences. The below list is a sample of some of the new laws or court cases that can reduce an inmate’s sentence in certain circumstances:

Some Recent Laws Affecting California Inmates:

  • AB 2942 Sentence Reduction (See Spolin Law P.C. article Re-Sentencing Under AB 2942)
  • Youth Offender Parole Hearing under SB 260/261 & AB 1308
  • Youth Offender Parole Hearing under SB 394
  • AB 1812 / PC 1170(d)(1) Re-Sentencing
  • SB 1437 (See Spolin Law P.C. article Getting Murder Charges Dismissed Under SB 1437)
  • Franklin Hearing
  • Re-Sentencing under Miller v. Alabama
  • Proposition 57 Anti-“Strike” Law
  • SB 9 Re-Sentencing for Young Offenders
  • Older laws affecting inmates (e.g., writ, commutation, etc.) that have been around for quite some time.

To learn whether any of these new laws might apply to your case, contact one of the appeals and post-conviction attorneys at Spolin Law P.C. The office main line is (310) 424-5816.

  1. Overview of New Laws Affecting Inmates
  2. Facts about the First Step Act
  3. Other New Laws Affecting State Prisoners
  4. Winning an Inmate’s Freedom

Winning an Inmate’s Freedom

There are various routes that can be taken to potentially win an inmate’s freedom under either the First Step Act or other laws allowing for reduced sentencing.

Some re-sentencing mechanisms are automatic and do not require any input from the inmate or a lawyer (for example, sentence reductions for federal drug offenses; calculation of federal good conduct credits). Other issues simply require an inmate to write a letter or submit a form seeking review of his or her case by an authority (for example, resentencing hearings under SB 9 for inmates sentenced to “life without parole”).

However, many methods of reducing an inmate’s sentence would benefit from the advocacy of a skilled post-conviction and appeals lawyer. This is because most of the new laws allowing for reduced sentences are discretionary. “Discretionary” means that the decision-maker has the option of granting the relief sought but is not automatically required to grant the relief.

In many cases, a successful outcome would require a judge or government bureaucrat to be convinced that the client is a “good person” who has been rehabilitated and who deserves to be released early. Additionally, an attorney’s skilled advocacy may be necessary when the facts of a case can be used both for and against a re-sentencing (for example: a “felony murder” inmate is only able to have his murder charge removed if the judge is convinced that he did not act with “reckless indifference to human life”). In many of these cases the required qualifications for re-sentencing are ambiguous and would benefit from the argument of a well-versed post-conviction attorney.

Here are some methods that Spolin Law P.C. uses to improve our client’s chances of success:

  • Arguing for how the client/inmate has been rehabilitated and would be a productive member of society.
  • Showing participating in classes, programming, and activities while in prison.
  • Gathering letters of recommendation and supporting documentation to show a client’s good character.
  • Advocating for how early release of the client serves the interests of justice.
  • Highlighting how the client qualifies for the specific law in question (for example, marshaling the medical records to show how a client deserves an early “compassionate release” due to terminal illness; or arguing how facts of a particular case do not show “reckless indifference to human life”).
  • Arranging attorney meetings with government bureaucrats to discuss why client deserves consideration for re-sentencing, early release, or another favorable outcome.

These methods are some of the most common steps that Spolin Law P.C. takes for its clients, with the end goal of convincing a judge, bureaucrat, or another decision-maker why our client deserves to re-integrate into normal society.