NewsTeam 10 Investigates


DA dealing with hundreds of resentencing requests: “No concern at all about the impact on victims”

Prison reform advocates disagree with the district attorney, saying laws need to go further.
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Posted at 6:59 PM, Mar 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 01:09:26-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Under newer resentencing laws in California, hundreds of convicted criminals in San Diego are now seeking new and lighter punishments for serious crimes.

Advocates for criminal justice reform are calling this a move in the right direction, while the San Diego County District Attorney believes the legislation is allowing victims to be re-traumatized.

Recently, the murder conviction of three men- Tyler Dean, Kevin Garcia and Ryan Valdez— convicted of killing Hugh Pettigrew III in Fallbrook in 2016, was overturned. According to the appellate court opinion, the new resentencing law (SB 1437) created a way where “persons convicted of murder under a now-invalid felony-murder or natural and probable consequences theory may petition for vacation of their convictions and resentencing."

Former restaurant order Daniel Dorado received a 40-year prison sentence in 2020 for sexually assaulting four women. He is now eligible to receive a new reduced sentence. During a court hearing Friday, Judge Charles Rogers said resentencing is “due to legislative changes in the sentencing law that could work to Mr. Dorado’s advantage. Two laws—including SB 567—were cited in Dorado’s case.

Some of the recent legislation includes:

SB 775/SB 1437 – Allows resentencing for certain people convicted of felony murder.

SB 483 – Requires the court to review cases with sentencing enhancement for certain prison priors.

SB 567- Requires the court to impose the middle term of a sentence under certain circumstances.

Elder parole – Allows for inmates at age 50 and who have served at least 20 years to be eligible for an elderly parole hearing.

The laws are retroactive, meaning they apply to criminal cases no matter how old they are.

The DA cited multiple convictions that are now resurfacing because of newer resentencing laws. That includes Dorado’s conviction, Pettigrew III’s murder and the 2007 murder of teenager Javier Quiroz in City Heights.

As of January this year, the DA’s office said they have received more than 525 petitions from inmates requesting resentencing under SB 775 and SB 1437. That includes the three people convicted of murdering Pettigrew III—Tyler Dean, Kevin Garcia and Ryan Valdez.

“The most important impact has been the impact on our victims,” Stephan said. “We have to call these victims and it's like we just pulled the rug out from right under them.”

In San Diego, Stephan said they had to redirect resources to address all the new resentencing laws and have a team of eight that works on these cases.

She is asking legislators to reconsider before moving forward to pass more laws. “I’d like everything to pause. I'd like there to be a study conducted by the legislature to see the positive and negative impacts of the legislation before they move forward,” Stephan said.

Some criminal justice reform advocates disagree.

“It makes sense to me that they’re going to be resistant to wanting to go back and look at work that they’ve already completed, but they also have to be held accountable for the extreme sentencing,” said Emily Harris, program co-director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland.

Harris said how we address criminal justice needs more reform, and money needs to be redirected from prisons to other avenues. “My hope is that we can take the resources that we save by putting people away for a very long time and move them into healing advocacy,” she said. “Say if everybody who was a victim of a violent crime had access to therapy… we would have a lot more healing and we’d probably prevent a lot more harm down the road because we know that most of the people who cause harm were harmed themselves.”

Regarding elder parole, advocates like appellate and litigation lawyer Matthew Barhoma said the new changes “would be in the interest of justice to no longer impose any incarceration” on those who qualify.

“Data is clear. The likelihood of reoffending is low,” Barhoma told Team 10. He adds that those eligible for parole go through a risk assessment with a psychologist.

According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “Despite the significant increase in the number of parole grants to inmates serving long sentences (8,000 parole grants in the last 10 years) the recidivism rates for these formerly incarcerated persons remains very low, at two to four percent for general recidivism and less than one percent for recidivism involving felony crimes against persons.”

Stephan said her office believes in reform but believes the current direction of new laws is hurting victims.

“We believe in balanced reforms, that balanced the rights of victims, the rights of the community to be safe and due process for the accused,” Stephan said. “We’re losing that balance. We're now in a phase where everything is only about protecting the rights of those who committed the crime."