Archive for August, 2008

Budget cuts force early releases in Fresno County

Posted on August 28, 2008. Filed under: California State Budget, Crime |

The Associated Press
Published 11:43 am PDT Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fresno County’s sheriff plans to release 800 of the 2,200 inmates awaiting trial in an effort to trim $3 million from her department’s budget.

Sheriff Margaret Mims says the releases are necessary because the department needs to lay off 20 guards and close two floors of the county jail to deal with the cuts.

Mims plans to release nonviolent offenders charged with misdemeanors first, then those charged with nonviolent felonies. Violent criminals will not be released.

Fresno Mayor Alan Autry on Wednesday urged the county not to release inmates, calling the move “premature.” Mims says her staff already has spent two years finding other ways to cut.

California State Sheriff’s Association’s legislative director Nick Warner says budget concerns have forced other counties to consider early releases as well.

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Court Ruling May Cause More Life Sentenced Inmates to Be Released From Prison

Posted on August 21, 2008. Filed under: Courts, Prisons |

Thursday, August 21, 2008 (AP)
<strong> Court rules governor wrongly denied killer parole</strong>

By PAUL ELIAS, Associated Press Writer

(08-21) 18:33 PDT San Francisco, CA (AP) —
A divided state Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was wrong to deny parole to a murderer who was a model prisoner during the more than 23 years she served behind bars.
In a 4-3 decision, California’s high court said the governor must consider more than just the nature of the crime when he overturns Board of Parole Hearings’ decisions granting parole. The majority decision, written by Chief Justice Ronald George, said the governor must show “some evidence” that the parolee is a danger to public safety.
In response, the governor’s legal affairs secretary, Andrea Hoch, said the ruling “adds an inappropriate level of review, which unnecessarily limits the governor’s discretion to decide the parole of a convicted murderer based on what is in the best interest of public safety.”
The court’s ruling Thursday stems from the board’s decision to grant parole in 2005 to Sandra Davis Lawrence, 61, who after rejecting a plea deal for a two-year prison sentence was convicted of first degree murder in 1983 and sentenced to a life term for killing her lover’s wife 12 years earlier.
In August 2005, the parole board for the fourth time in 12 years granted her parole because it found her to be a discipline-free prisoner who accepted responsibility for the killing, expressed remorse and showed no signs of being a danger to the public. Lawrence volunteered for many prison organizations and earned a master’s degree in business administration.
Still, Schwarzenegger reversed the panel’s decision as he had done previously, finding the killing to be particularly egregious. Lawrence shot and stabbed Rubye Williams to death in 1971 and then spent 11 years on the run before turning herself in to police accompanied by the late Los Angeles attorney Johnnie Cochrane.
Schwarzenegger said in his 2006 veto that Lawrence’s crime was “a cold, premeditated murder carried out in an especially cruel manner and committed for an incredibly petty reason.”
Governors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis also made similar reversals when they were in office, likewise determining that the nature of Lawrence’s crime made her a danger to society.
On Thursday, the divided court said that while the underlying crime is always a factor in parole decisions, it shouldn’t automatically disqualify parole grants to murderers sentenced to life in prison.
“Indeed, it is not the circumstance that the crime is particularly egregious that makes a prisoner unsuitable for parole,” George wrote for the majority, “it is the implication concerning future dangerousness that derives from the prisoner having committed that crime.”
George said it is undisputed that Lawrence is rehabilitated, saying she posed no danger to society. He also wrote that the court’s focus “upon the inmate’s current dangerousness should not produce a wave of reversals of decisions denying parole.”
Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno joined George.
Justice Ming Chin in a dissenting opinion wrote that the “the awesome responsibility of deciding whether to release a convicted murderer on parole … lies with the executive branch, not the judicial branch.”
Justices Marvin Baxter and Carol Corrigan joined Chin’s dissent.
Hoch, the governor’s legal affairs secretary, said the ruling limits the intent of voters, who approved a ballot measure in 1988 giving governors exclusive authority to review board decisions regarding paroles for convicted murderers.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger will continue to consider each of these lifer cases individually and based on the entirety of their record, including original crime and time in prison, will decide whether or not a lifer inmate poses an unreasonable safety risk to our communities if released,” Hoch said.
Courts have ruled against Schwarzenegger’s parole denials at least two dozen times in the last two years and prisoners continue to file lawsuits accusing the governor of wrongfully reversing parole board grants because of politics. State Senate Democrats have also blocked four of the Republican governor’s nominees to the board, complaining the panel releases too few inmates who have served lengthy terms.
On the other hand, some crime victims organizations complain that Schwarzenegger is too lenient when it comes to granting parole to convicted killers. The California Crime Victims Action Alliance states on its Web site that since Schwarzenegger took office in November 2003 he has allowed the parole of 270 prisoners with life sentences out of the 890 approved by the board in that time.
In a second, related case Thursday, an unanimous court upheld Schwarzenneger’s denial of parole to another murderer it said remained a danger to public safety.
Using the legal standards spelled out in Lawrence’s case, George wrote that Schwarzenegger was right to deny parole to Richard Shaputis because the prisoner failed to take responsibility for killing his wife and there was “some evidence” that he remains a danger to society.
Shaputis was convicted of second-degree murder in 1987 for shooting his wife and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
Chin wrote a separate, concurring opinion again stating that it’s the governor’s decision; rather than the courts &amp;#8212; to make parole decisions. He was joined by Baxter and Corrigan. ————–
<strong>Listen to KQED Radio Report on Supreme Court Decision on Parole</strong>

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