California maintains certain laws that enhance, or lengthen, prison sentences when specific circumstances are met, such as using a gun to commit a violent felony. California’s “10-20-life” gun sentencing enhancement law was formerly imposed on a mandatory basis, but currently judges throughout the state have discretion regarding whether they want to impose additional prison time. Using a firearm during the commission of certain felonies can severely increase a prison sentence. At The Law Office of Gregory H.Comings, we help individuals facing weapons offenses, as well as potential sentence enhancements that may accompany the underlying crime. Dedicated Riverside and San Bernardino County gun crime attorney Gregory Comings strives to effectively and efficiently help clients set forth a strong criminal defense.
California’s “10-20-Life” enhancement is codified in Penal Code section 12022.53. This enhanced prison sentence extends the time a defendant serves in prison, in addition and consecutive to the sentence for certain underlying felony crimes. The nineteen specific felonies listed in Penal Code section 12022.53 include rape, kidnapping, murder, and assault with a firearm on a peace officer, as well as other violent felonies that are categorized as being punishable by death or life imprisonment.
Penalties listed under the 10-20-Life law include 10 years in prison for “using” a firearm. If the firearm was fired during the commission of certain crimes, the court may impose 20 years, and 25 years to life may result if a person was seriously injured or killed with a gun in relation to the underlying crime. Causation is an essential element of the 25-Life enhancement, as the defendant’s actions must have proximately caused the injury or death. For all enhancements, the sentence length depends on whether, and how, a gun was used during the commission of the underlying felony.
It is important to note that “using” a firearm does not require that the gun be loaded or even operable. Intentional conduct that shows a firearm was used can include hitting someone with a gun, sometimes called a “pistol whip,” or displaying the gun in a threatening manner. A seasoned gun crime attorney can evaluate whether the facts of your case may fulfill the required elements of any charges you are are facing.
Defenses that may be available to an underlying felony crime will be based on the specific circumstances surrounding the alleged crime. California law requires that the prosecution prove all elements of the charged crime. For those felonies listed under the 10-20-Life law, the prosecution must prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
When assessing whether the 10-20-Life enhancement applies, the first element of the law requires that the defendant personally used a gun. If the facts indicate that a firearm was concealed, and that the defendant did not in fact mention their gun, then prosecutors may not charge the 10-20-Life law. They may instead rely on a different sentencing enhancement, such as being armed with a firearm during the commission of a felony crime. The sentence enhancement for 20 years for discharging a gun requires that the defendant intended to discharge the weapon. If a gun is accidentally struck and goes off, prosecutors may not charge the 20-year enhancement.
The facts must also indicate that the defendant's action was a “proximate cause of injury” for the charge of 25-year to life enhancement. A strong legal defense may attack the chain of events that led to the victim’s death or serious bodily injury. However, this proximate cause theory may hold a defendant responsible when firing a gun set in motion a series of events that naturally and proximately led to the victim’s serious bodily injury.
Finally, self defense may be appropriate as as defense when you are facing sentencing enhancements for an underlying felony. Penal Code section 12022.53 will not apply when the defendant was using lawful self-defense. An example might be a defendant who fired their gun when they reasonably feared imminent harm. In this case, the judge or jury may rely on their discretion not to apply the sentence enhancement for using a gun.
Setting forth a strong defense to serious criminal charges and sentence enhancement laws generally requires the knowledge of experienced legal counsel. San Bernardino and Riverside County attorney Gregory H. Comings is prepared to assess the facts surrounding your underlying felony and potential sentence enhancement. By providing efficient and effective legal representation, Attorney Comings will seek to dismiss or reduce your penalties. Our office can be contacted by phone at (951) 686-3457 to learn more, or you can fill out our online form. We represent clients living in areas including Palm Desert, Indio, Moreno Valley, Palm Springs, Temecula, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, and San Bernardino.