District Attorney's Office

San Diego County DA Reviewing 100-Plus Cases for Potential Resentencing

On Monday an 84-year-old man who was convicted of a series of residential burglaries in Rancho Santa Fe was resentenced

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A second chance may be arriving for more than a hundred people facing decades inside California prisons.

Reviewing the prison sentences is a newly reorganized unit in the San Diego County's District Attorney's office.

On Monday James Riviera, 84, was resentenced. Riviera, who was convicted of a series of residential burglaries in Rancho Santa Fe, had been serving a 140 years-to-life sentence. He spent the past 25 years in prison.

“We felt, reviewing his record and his rehabilitation efforts in prison, and reviewing his petition, that the right thing to do was to ask the court to resentence him, and the court agreed with us,” San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan told NBC 7.

Riviera's sentence was reduced, with a San Diego judge -- in light of Riviera's age and health condition, and his low risk for re-offending -- ruling in favor of the request.

“I mean, residential burglaries are terrifying to the residents and we want to hold people accountable, but we feel in this case that, you know, serving 20, over 23 years in prison definitely was a price that was paid,” Stephan said. “It was accountability, but 100 years, like the judge agreed, was too harsh for the crime.”

100 years, like the judge agreed, was too harsh for the crime

District Attorney Summer Stephan

Riviera's case is part of the DA's newly reorganized Conviction and Sentence Review Unit. The team is working with the nonprofit For the People, reviewing cases and determining if resentencing is appropriate.

“Any injustice that we can correct, that's time worth it for us, but we're doing this very carefully,” Stephan said.

The district attorney’s office said in a statement that it had received a list of more than 750 cases to review. The DA’s office then narrowed it down to about 125. They're beginning with 40 cases for an in-depth review. On top of their running list of cases. that brings the total number of cases under review to about 150.

“So we're looking back 20, 30 years,10 years ago," Stephan said. "So there are a lot of cases to take a look at."

Key factors being examined are whether the convictions were for nonviolent crimes, that victims are comfortable with the release, and also that there is a re-entry plan. Riviera, for example, is set to be released to a sober living facility in Santa Maria.

The district attorney’s office said they have already filed more petitions asking the court to resentence others.

Last week, Hector Contreras, 51, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm, was released after serving 24 years in prison. His original sentence was 27 years-to-life; he was re-sentenced to three years.

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