Archive for March, 2010

Federal appeals court upholds Proposition 9

Posted on March 25, 2010. Filed under: Courts, Crime Victims, Parole, The Law, Victims Rights |

Capitol Alert – Sacramento Bee

March 25, 2010

A three-judge federal appellate panel today overturned Sacramento federal Judge Lawrence Karlton and reinstated the tough parole revocation procedures adopted by California voters two years ago in Proposition 9.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. George Runner and a coalition of tough-on-crime groups, had been challenged by criminal defense groups, saying it “purports to eliminate nearly all due process rights of parolees and directly conflicts with the protections put in place by the injunction and established constitutional law.”

Karlton declared that Proposition 9 conflicted with a permanent injunction agreed to by the state as part of a 15-year-old class action lawsuit on behalf of parolees and issued an injunction against the measure’s application of the tougher procedures.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, now a Democratic candidate for governor, appealed Karlton’s ruling with support from Proposition 9’s backers, particularly the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation.

Today, the 9th District Court of Appeal decision by Judges Michael Hawkins and Milan Smith Jr., with partial dissent from Judge John Noonan, said Karlton erred. Their decision was filed just two days short of one year since Karlton’s decree.

“Because the district court made no express determination that any aspect of the California parole revocation procedures, as modified by Proposition 9, violated constitutional rights, or that the injunction was necessary to remedy a constitutional violation, we vacate and remand the March 2009 order for the district court to make that determination and reconcile the injunction with California law as expressed in Proposition 9,” the decision, authored by Hawkins, said.

“Today’s decision makes it clear that a judge’s order to grant more rights to parolees than constitutionally required does not trump a state constitutional amendment adopted by the people,” said the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation’s legal director, Kent Scheidegger.

The full appellate ruling can be found here.

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Parolee with 19 arrests underscores dangers of new parole law

Posted on March 10, 2010. Filed under: Parole |

posted on LA Times Blog – LA NOW
March 10, 2010 |  9:36 am
The union representing Los Angeles police officers said Wednesday that a parolee with 19 arrests and four convictions underscores how laws meant to ease prison overcrowding could pose a serious — and ongoing — threat to public safety. Ezra Hooker Sr. was arrested Jan. 5 after allegedly pointing a rifle at a prostitute and leading LAPD officers on a high-speed chase on South Los Angeles freeways. During the pursuit, which LAPD investigators said hit 100 mph, Hooker threw a brick at officers and discarded a rifle before crashing his car. Hooker was found to be wearing body armor at the time of his arrest, police said. Sources familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about Hooker’s criminal record, said the 43-year-old South L.A. resident had 19 prior arrests dating back to the 1970s, including murder and manslaughter. He served time in state prison for narcotics and gun possession.

Yet he was classified by the state Department of Corrections and Parole as a low-level offender and had most recently been paroled in February 2009, according to sources.

A new law that went into effect this year aimed to cut the state inmate population by about 6,500. The reductions, targeting low-level offenders, are achieved in part through good-behavior credits but also by revising parole rules to stop police agencies from returning nonviolent offenders to prison for minor parole violations. But some law enforcement officials are warning that there could be more incidents like Hooker’s because the new law allows for even less scrutiny of an inmate’s criminal record than before.

Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents nearly 10,000 officers, said that despite assurances by state corrections officials who say they are monitoring parolees, the Hooker case is indicative of what could be a growing problem for law enforcement in the coming months. “This latest case further underscores the message that we have been hammering home the past few months – that felon parolees released early from prison pose an avoidable danger to our communities,” said Weber. “Combine the invalidation of laws tailored to lessen the danger that felons can pose once they are released with the budget cuts, court orders and legislation giving felons additional ‘good time’ credit, and we are going to see thousands of Ezra Hookers on the streets.”

More than 1,500 nonviolent inmates have been released from county jails across California since Jan. 25 as a result of the interpretation of the new formula by which prisoners receive time off for good behavior, speeding up the timetable for their release. But some police officials say more attention needs to be placed on how parolees, both violent and nonviolent, will be monitored.

The law has long required different levels of monitoring for those released from state prison, with violent offenders subject to more rigorous checks, including more frequent visits with parole agents. With the new law, those defined as nonviolent will not meet with a parole agent. Nor will they have to go back to prison for violating “terms and conditions” of their parole, although they could be arrested and tried for new crimes. LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon said Hooker had been arrested and sent back to state prison multiple times on parole violations. But with the new law, police may no longer return people like Hooker to prison for violating “terms and conditions,” thereby eliminating “a valuable policing tool.” “For example, in most cases where you have a gang member who is selling drugs, you could ‘violate’ him if they were at a location where drugs were being sold,” Gannon said. “Now, that option will no longer be available to us.”

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Sacramento County judge orders molester freed from prison

Posted on March 4, 2010. Filed under: Courts, Parole |

By Andy Furillo
afurillo@sacbee.com

Published: Friday, Feb. 26, 2010 – 12:00 am | Page 2B

A Sacramento judge has ordered the release of an imprisoned child molester who has served more than 20 years on his 15-to-life term.

Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Lueras issued her 17-page order on Wednesday in response to a habeas corpus petition filed on behalf of Robert Winston Precobb, a 55-year-old multiple offender.

Precobb was convicted in Sacramento in 1988 on one count of molesting a victim under the age of 14. He received the 15-to-life sentence based on prior convictions in 1979 and 1980, in cases that involved victims who were 12 and 17 at the time, according to Lueras’ order.

In her ruling, Lueras found that a 2006 California Supreme Court decision changed the law underpinning one of those prior convictions that qualified Precobb for his 15-to-life term.

The high court’s decision found that non-forcible oral copulation with a 17-year-old boy – the facts of Precobb’s 1980 case – can’t be used as a predicate offense to trigger a life sentence.

Lueras then resentenced Precobb to 14 years and four months – time he’s already served – and ordered him released from Mule Creek State Prison.

She also ordered that he be kept “free from any parole period” and that he not be subject to the residency requirements imposed by the state’s version of “Jessica’s Law.”

Precobb must still register as a sex offender, Lueras ruled.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Oscar Hidalgo said Thursday the agency is reviewing the order before it releases Precobb.

“There’s a process which we go through to release each and every inmate up for release, whether by court order or the natural release on an inmate’s time,” Hidalgo said. “There’s the important component of notification of victims, and in this case, he has more than one victim … .”

Sacramento attorney M. Bradley Wishek said he is seeking an order to have the corrections agency explain why it has not released Precobb.

“The court has found that he served roughly three times what he lawfully could have served,” Wishek said. “Once the judge made the order, and he was to be released, there was simply no reason for them to continue to refuse to follow the law.”

The state attorney general’s office opposed Precobb’s release. Deputy Attorney General Daniel B. Bernstein said in court papers that Precobb “waited 20 years after his sentence was imposed before challenging its constitutionality.”

Even though the Supreme Court case that enabled Precobb’s release did not come down until 2006, Bernstein argued in a court memorandum that the inmate “could have brought the same claim years before that case was decided.”

Bernstein’s papers also said that Precobb’s now-successful challenge to the constitutionality of his sentence opens the door for “many other prisoners” to go forward with similar claims.

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