Hundreds of inmates request lower sentences in San Diego County
Rene Ruiz had been sentenced to 15 years to life for a DUI crash that killed a woman in 2018. Last week, he was re-sentenced to 15 years only, with credit for time served.
His is one of the cases affected by Senate Bill 1437 which made it possible for people convicted of crimes to petition to be re-sentenced.
The San Diego County District Attorney's office said that the new law is bogging down a system that is already overwhelmed, and that it had received more than 525 petitions from inmates requesting re-sentencing under this new law this year alone.
But more than that— the DA said families will be re-traumatized by having to go back to court.
Laura Keenan is the co-founder of Safe Streets San Diego. Her husband was killed by a wrong-way driver in 2021. She said she can relate to some of what these families are going through because she is in the middle of a plea sentencing process that has been painful, in part because it resulted in a reduced sentence.
"I feel for those families. They probably thought finally that part of their day-to-day life was over," she said. "It's a feeling of utter injustice for me and anybody who has lost a loved one (or anybody that) has had a loved one killed. That person's life is so important. My husband Matt was one of the most incredible people I ever knew."
Keenan said that it must be worse when victims' families have to return to court — she can’t imagine doing that again.
"The criminal system made a decision and whatever that was, they had to live with it and now they're having to re-face all that again," she said. "We'll probably have to see the person who killed their loved one again, for me, that's one of the toughest things."
The DA said thousands of cases qualify for reduced sentencing, including murder and sexual assault cases.
But criminal defense attorney Jan Ronis said this is also about making a justice system that is fair for everyone.
"We put too many people in too many prisons at enormous cost to the taxpayers," he said. "And although (it may be) somewhat inconvenient perhaps to prosecutors to have to re-litigate these issues, (it) is far more burdensome to have prisons running at 200% capacity, 250% capacity. So on balance, this is a fair and just approach to restore equity and sentencing in California."
He said he has several clients now going through the process, one who he said was young and over-sentenced. Ronis said that client has been released and is now getting a second chance.
"These laws that are now designed to perhaps give people a second chance will make us a better society going forward," Ronis said.
But Keenan says victims' families are not only forgotten but being revictimized by these laws.
"I really believe that victims, families and victims should be at the core of how we decide our laws," she said. "Unfortunately, we are third parties to the system, and that's not the way it should be. Victims and victims' families deserve better."