Two men convicted of transporting 35 kilos of cocaine up Interstate 5 were each sentenced Friday to 13 years in "county jail prison," a new Sacramento record for the longest local term under the state's new realignment law.
Superior Court Judge Lawrence G. Brown said the sentences he handed down to David Ciarelli and Richard Wisneski "seems to flesh out and stretch out the contours of correctional realignment."
Brown said he had "no discretion" under the law but to sentence the two Los Angeles County men to county jail rather than state prison.
Under the terms of the realignment law that went into effect last year, offenders convicted of crimes deemed by lawmakers to be nonserious or nonviolent are being locked up in local facilities rather than winding up in the state's still-overcrowded prisons.
Gov. Jerry Brown's administration crafted the realignment plan in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld a federal three-judge panel's order that the state cut the population in its 33 prisons to 110,000 by June 2013.
The prison population stood at about 143,000 when the realignment law went into effect last October. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton said that by Friday, it had fallen to approximately 124,000.
Thornton said that since realignment went into effect, prison authorities have been able to clear out bunks some of them triple-level from gyms and prison day rooms and return those facilities to their intended purposes.
"Realignment is enabling the department to comply (with the federal court orders) and reduce overcrowding," Thornton said. "It makes for a far more efficient prison system."
In Sacramento County, realignment so far has resulted in the redirection of 291 defendants out of prison and into the local jail system, although some of those offenders have since been released, according to principal analyst Lynn Wynn of the county's Community Corrections Partnership.
Wynn said the bulk of those inmates were sentenced to shorter terms, in the three-year range. She said there have been "a bunch" in the six-to-eight-year category and only four that were for 10 years or more. She said until Friday, the longest realignment term was for 11 years.
In Friday's case, Ciarelli, 42, and Wisneski, 21, were arrested May 16, 2011, after they were pulled over on Interstate 5 for making a lane change at an unsafe speed, according to their probation reports. Ciarelli told officers the pair were on their way to Portland, Ore., for a skateboarding competition in which Wisneski was supposed to participate, the report said.
According to the report, the officers became suspicious and conducted a consent search of the car, finding the 35 kilos of cocaine in two duffel bags and a backpack.
The two pleaded no contest to drug transportation charges on Jan. 13. The ensuing conviction qualified them for terms of three, six or nine years. Judge Brown selected the low term on both offenders.
But California's drug transportation laws contain sentencing enhancement provisions that stack up time based on the amount of the load. In this case, the 35 kilos more than 77 pounds contributed 15 more years to the sentences of Ciarelli and Wisneski. The judge then ordered the two to serve 13 of the 18 years imprisoned in the county jail, followed by five years of mandatory post-release supervision.
In court Friday, defense lawyers Jerry E. Shapiro and Russell W. Miller described their clients as "mules" who were only transporting the stuff for more sophisticated financiers and organizers. In his probation report, Ciarelli suggested that he got into the cocaine transport operation under duress, that higher-level dealers told him to move the dope for them "or they would hurt his family."
Deputy District Attorney Caryn Dubke said Ciarelli had been paid $1,500 for a previous shipment and had $500 in his possession at the time of his arrest last year.
Outside court, Shapiro, who was representing Ciarelli, called the sentences handed down by the judge "excessive." Given the length of the terms, he said it probably would be better for his client to spend the time in prison rather than in a county jail.
"The state prisons are places that have programs for long-term and intermediate-term incarceration," Shapiro said. "The county jails up to this point do not. Maybe they have a GED course. But they are not equipped for long-term incarceration."