Rethinking Penal Code Enhancements in California

Rethinking Penal Code Enhancements in California

client Chief Justice of California instructors Robert Weisberg
deliverables Legal Memorandum; Policy Report number of students students (Law)
deadline Spring 2015 quarters offered Autumn, Winter


The Chief Justice of California has asked the Stanford Criminal Justice Center to advise the judiciary, and indirectly the Legislature, on potential revisions to the California Penal Code. The California prison system remains under federal court control for unconstitutional overcrowding, and the federal court is loath to terminate the injunction without some reassurance of reforms that might prevent the overcrowding from recurring. In the absence of a state sentencing commission, the Chief Justice believes that we at Stanford can perform a fresh analysis of the parts of the Penal Code that most merit review, in terms of their undue complexity, their arguably disproportionate severity, and the possibility that they are major drivers of the size of the prison population. Enhancements are an incredibly complex part of the Penal Code. Tens of provisions, many of them obscure even to judges, allow for very large upgrades to sentences because of aspects of conduct that are said to aggravate the underlying crime. (Please note that while some of the enhancements under review involve prior crimes, we are not dealing with the Three Strikes Law.) The Chief Justice’s administrative arm, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), acknowledges that no one has performed any statutory analysis of the overall scheme of enhancements, nor made any empirical effort to connect enhancements to prison inputs. This multi-term practicum will gather data for this empirical analysis, beginning with mapping the statutory terrain. Students will chart Penal Code enhancements, analyzing their connections to particular crimes, and identify the crimes and enhancements that are most often charged in California.


Robert Weisberg 1

Robert Weisberg

  • Interim Dean
  • Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law
  • Faculty Co-Director, Stanford Criminal Justice Center
  • Associate Dean for Curriculum