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Inmate resentenced, released under new '3 strikes' law

Kenneth Corley, a convicted felon who has served 16 years in prison, was released from custody Wednesday after having his sentence reduced in the first case under the state's revised "three strikes" law.

Corley was given a mandatory 25-years-to-life sentence under California's three strikes law in 1996 after being convicted for non-violent drug possession – his third felony offense.

Earlier this month, the state's voters passed Proposition 36, an amended version of the law, in which inmates can apply to be resentenced as long as their conviction was not for a serious or violent crime.

San Diego Superior Court Judge David J. Danielsen on Wednesday reduced Corley's sentence to 15 years, 4 months, and Corley was released from custody after being given credit for time already served in prison.

The Institute for Criminal Defense Advocacy at California Western School of Law and the San Diego County district attorney's office worked together on Corley's petition.

“I am thrilled to be able to tell Mr. Corley today that he is going home after 16 years of incarceration,” said Justin Brooks, Corley’s attorney and a California Western professor. “I applaud District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for working with us to free him even before Proposition 36 passed. It makes no sense to keep non-violent offenders in prison for the rest of their lives.”

Upon his release, Corley will move into a halfway house in downtown San Diego for additional job training and counseling, before moving in with his two brothers and beginning maintenance work for a family friend.

“Our office has been preparing for a change in the three strikes law for months and we stand ready to review the hundreds of petitions that are expected to be filed by inmates, remaining mindful of our primary obligation to protect public safety,” Dumanis said. “Prior to passage of the three-strikes initiative, our office had already been working with the Innocence Project and the San Diego Public Defenders Office to identify defendants sentenced to 25 years to life who don’t pose an unreasonable risk to public safety and might be appropriate for resentencing.”

The original three-strikes law voters approved in 1994 called for a life sentence for any felony conviction, if the defendant had two previous convictions for violent or serious offenses.

Prop. 36 modified the law to require a sentence of 25 years to life only if the third strike was a serious or violent felony, or upon a conviction for another qualifying factor, such as use of a deadly weapon or intent to inflict injury.

It is retroactive to the extent that it allows certain inmates whose third strikes were non-violent, non-serious felonies and are serving life terms to seek a new sentencing hearing. Defendants who are registered sex offenders, or had any convictions for rape or child molestation or another significant prior, such as homicide, will still be subject to 25 to life sentences, nor do previously sentenced inmates with that history qualify for a new hearing.

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