Hundreds of inmates ask for a reduced sentence in San Diego County
René Ruiz was sentenced to 15 years to life in a drunk driving accident that killed a woman in 2018. Last week, he was re-sentenced to only 15 years, taking into account the time served.
This is one of the cases affected by Senate Bill 1437, which allowed people convicted of crimes to petition for reconviction.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office said the new law slows down an already overstretched system, and that it has received more than 525 petitions this year alone from inmates seeking sentencing reviews under the new law.
But more than that, the district attorney said the families would be re-traumatized if they had to go back to court.
Laura Keenan is the co-founder of Safe Streets San Diego. In 2021, her husband died due to a driver driving the wrong way. She said she can understand what these families are going through because she is in the process of getting a plea sentence, which has been painful, in part because it resulted in a reduced sentence.
“I sympathize with these families. They probably thought that part of their daily life had come to an end,” she said. “This feeling of extreme injustice towards me and anyone who has lost a loved one (or anyone) who has lost a loved one. This man’s life is so important. My husband Matt was one of the most incredible people I have ever known. “
Keenan said it must be worse when victims’ families have to go back to court – she can’t imagine doing it again.
“The criminal system made a decision, and whatever it was, they had to live with it, and now they have to face it all again,” she said. “We’ll probably have to see the person who killed their loved one again, for me that’s one of the hardest things.”
The district attorney said thousands of cases are eligible for reduced sentences, including cases of murder and sexual harassment.
But criminal defense lawyer Jan Ronis said it was also about creating a fair justice system for all.
“We put too many people in too many prisons, which cost the taxpayers dearly,” he said. “And while it is (maybe) somewhat inconvenient for prosecutors to perhaps re-examine these issues, (it is) much more burdensome to have prisons run at 200%, 250% capacity. So in general it’s fair. and just go for justice and sentencing in California.”
He said he has several clients going through the process now, one of whom he said was young and served an excessive sentence. Ronis said the client has been released and is now getting a second chance.
“These laws, which are now designed to perhaps give people a second chance, will make our society a better place in the future,” Ronis said.
But Keenan says that the families of the victims are not only forgotten, but are once again falling victim to these laws.
“I really believe that victims, families and victims should be at the center of how we make our laws,” she said. “Unfortunately, we are third parties to the system and this should not be the case. The victims and their families deserve better.”
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