An enhancement is a special allegation that the District Attorney’s office can add onto a felony charge that adds additional prison time to the base term of a felony. Enhancements do not apply to misdemeanors. While a defendant can be found “guilty” or “not guilty” of the underlying felony, an enhancement is either “admitted” or “denied”. An enhancement only applies if the defendant is guilty of the underlying crime and the enhancement is found to be true. If a defendant is found not guilty of the underlying crime or the underlying crime is dismissed, then the enhancement does not apply. In a jury trial, if a defendant is found guilty of the underlying crime, then the jury must unanimously find the enhancement to be true in order for the defendant to be penalized with the enhancement.
Enhancements fall into two main categories – conduct enhancements (also known as specific enhancements) and prior conviction enhancements (also known as prison prior enhancements or priors). Conduct enhancements relate to the nature of the charged felony. Examples of conduct enhancements include:
- Great Bodily Injury Enhancement — adds 3+ years additional years if the defendant personally inflicts great bodily injury on a person during the commission of a felony, pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.7
- Gang Enhancement – adds additional years if the defendant commits a felony “for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with any criminal street gang” if the defendant as the specific intent to “promote, further or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members”, pursuant to Penal Code section 186.22.
- Firearm Enhancement – adds 10, 20 or 25 additional years if a defendant personally used a firearm during the commission of a felony, pursuant to Penal Code section 12022.53
- Aggravated White Collar Enhancement – adds an additional 1 to 5 years (depending on the loss) for fraud related felonies that result in a loss of more than $100,000, pursuant to Penal Code section 186.11.
- Prior conviction enhancements relate to the criminal history of the defendant. Examples of enhancements for priors include:
- Prior prison enhancement - additional 1 year for every prior prison term served by the defendant for certain sexually violent offenses where there is no washout period pursuant to the requirements of Penal Code section 667.5(b); and an additional 3 years for every prior prison term for a violent felony if the current offense is also a violent felony and there is no washout period as defined by Penal Code section 667.5(a).
- Strike enhancements – a prior strike conviction doubles the sentencing range for the current charged felony and two prior strike convictions make the current offense a possible life crime if the current offense is also a strike.
Only the District Attorney’s office has the power to add enhancements to a particular case, and they also have the power to remove enhancements as part of plea negotiations. Most enhancements can also be struck by the court if the defendant wants to make a deal with the judge. The judge has the power to strike an enhancement or strike the punishment for that enhancement, pursuant to Penal Code section 1385. However, there are a few situations where the court is neither allowed to strike the enhancement nor the punishment.