Friday, October 20, 2023

Dinsmore Remains in Limbo Amid Jurisdictional Questions

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2023 at 11:51 AM

Family and friends who’d walked into court yesterday afternoon hoping to see Steve Dinsmore released from jail left disappointed, but not without hope that day may soon come.

Dinsmore, who was ordered released from custody in 2022 after serving more than 17 years in prison only to be returned to the jail in August after an appellate court overturned Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney’s decision to release him, remains in a state of legal limbo.

Initially sentenced by Feeney to serve more than 30 years in state prison after he was convicted of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy with a firearm, Dinsmore petitioned the court for relief in 2021. He argued that a new law made the types 10-year firearm sentencing enhancements that were a part of his original sentence now discretionary and, pointing to what’s been described as “exceptional conduct” in prison, argued that he’d been rehabilitated and was worthy of release. While the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office objected, arguing the new law was not retroactive and Feeney had no legal authority to revisit Dinsmore’s sentence, Feeney said he felt Dinsmore had been rehabilitated and ordered him released. The DA’s office appealed the ruling before Dinsmore left prison.


By all accounts, Dinsmore’s reintegration into law outside prison was smooth, as he continued attending AA meetings, got a job with Caltrans, reconnected with his two daughters, got engaged and was successfully discharged from parole, having never missed a meeting or failed a drug test. But his restart on life came to a screeching halt in August, when the appellate ruling and the DA’s office’s opposition to any alternatives left Feeney with no legal choice but to reinstate the remainder of Dinsmore’s original sentence, leaving him facing 10 more years in prison.

But the Legislature passed a new law this year, written with the help of Dinsmore’s appellate attorney, that makes the previous law giving judges discretion over firearm sentencing enhancements retroactive, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law Oct. 8. The law doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, however.

During yesterday’s hearing, Feeney made official his intent to consider re-sentencing Dinsmore pursuant to the new law in the new year, setting a Jan. 8 court date for a hearing on that subject. But whether Dinsmore can legally be released before then is proving to be a complicated question.

Dinsmore’s attorney, Ben McLaughlin, had previously asked Feeney to consider ordering Dinsmore released pending resentencing to either the supervision of the county probation department or state parole, which could outfit him with an electronic monitoring device. But Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal correctly pointed out there’s no legal mechanism for a superior court judge to release a state prison inmate to parole, seemingly leaving probation as the only option. McLaughlin reported to the court he’d reached out to the Humboldt County Probation Department and it needed additional information, asking to review his full file from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and obtain an official copy of his parole discharge letter.

The probation department is unsure, McLaughlin noted, whether it has the jurisdiction to monitor Dinsmore, noting he is not a typical jail inmate awaiting sentencing or serving a local sentence. But he also doesn’t have an active CDCR number, as his previous one was closed out when he was discharged from probation.

Feeney set an Oct. 30 court date to continue the discussion, at which time the court hopes to have more information about its options, with both McLaughlin and Bernthal having briefed their positions.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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