The California Supreme Court has ruled that correctional officials don’t have to consider early release for violent felons, even if their primary offense is nonviolent.
The high court ruled that corrections officials acted properly in drafting regulations that exclude from early parole consideration any prisoner who is currently serving a term of incarceration for a violent felony.
“In reaching this conclusion, we find the Constitutional text (of the ballot initiative) is ambiguous,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on behalf of the court.
In agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the justices found that “the ballot materials reveal that the voters intended to exclude any inmate currently serving a term for a violent felony from early parole consideration, regardless of whether such an inmate has also been convicted of a nonviolent felony.”
Proposition 57 permits most prisoners to attempt early parole. It is intended to motivate prisoners to participate in rehabilitation programs. A parole board might still refuse individual releases, including just nonviolent offenders, excluding those convicted of sex crimes, The Associated Press reported Jan. 3.
“Nobody thought this provision would apply to anyone with a violent conviction. And to take an extremely literal view of the (ballot) language and apply it in a way that nobody on either side thought it was going to be applied would be absurd,” said Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, opposing such an interpretation of the law.
The Supreme Court overturned one appeals court decision that would have nullified a corrections regulation that excludes prisoners serving time for any violent crime, even though not their primary offense.
California’s definition of violent offenses covers 23 of the most dangerous crimes, such as murder, voluntary manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, arson, robbery and extortion.
The case was filed for Mohammad Mohammad, who pleaded not guilty to nine second-degree robbery counts considered violent crimes, and six nonviolent felonies of receiving stolen property.
A Los Angeles County judge stipulated as the principal crime one property offense, and said the other sentences would run accordingly, giving him a mass sentence of 29 years in prison.
Mohammad contends that subject to the plain understanding of Proposition 57, he should be considered for release after serving only three years for the property crime. The appeals court agreed.
Heather Mackay, Mohammad’s attorney, may file another appeal in county superior court, based on some questions left unresolved by Monday’s decision.
“They left open the possibility (for future court interpretation) that Mr. Mohammad and other folks with mixed offenses might become eligible for early parole after they serve the violent felony portions of their terms,” she said.
A year ago, the justices ruled that inmates convicted of nonviolent sex offenses may be eligible for parole under Proposition 57. “Here, by contract, the ballot materials provide much stronger support for the Department’s position,” wrote Cantil-Sakauye.