Court Decision Allows Nonviolent "Third Strikers" to Seek Release Under Prop 57

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On September 7, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Laura Laesecke issued a decision in the Vicenson Edwards Habeas Corpus case, granting the petition.

This landmark decision allows inmates locked up under California’s Three Strikes law to seek early parole if their third strike was for a nonviolent offense. Previously, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) barred relief for Edwards and other similarly situated inmates serving Three Strikes sentences for nonviolent offenses.

The court issued the following statement in regards to its decision:

“We agree with Edwards that the Three Strikes law indeterminate sentence is put aside for purposes of determining the full term for his primary offense, which is the upper term of three years. The language in section 32(a)(1) that excludes any alternative sentence from consideration is most naturally understood as a command to calculate the parole eligibility date as if the Three Strikes law alternative sentencing scheme had not existed at the time of Edwards’ sentencing. In that circumstance, the maximum term Edwards would face for the current crimes of conviction is three years in state prison (Pen. Code, §18). Edwards has long since completed that prison term, and is therefore now eligible for early parole consideration.”

Edwards filed his Writ of Habeus Corpus in February of this year, arguing that Prop 57 should apply to, and not exclude, nonviolent offenders locked up under the Three Strikes law. Prop 57 is a California ballot proposition, approved on the November 8, 2016 ballot, which allows parole consideration for nonviolent felons, changes policies on juvenile prosecution, and authorizes sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior, and education.

“There is no question that the voters who approved Proposition 57 intended Edwards and others serving Three Strikes indeterminate sentences to be eligible for early parole consideration; the express exclusion of alternative sentences [by CDCR] when determining the full term is dispositive,” said Laesecke.

What Happens Next?

Although a decision has been issued in the Edwards case, CDCR has 60 days from the decision to appeal. That date is Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

If no appeal is filed, or if the appeals court refuses to hear the case, CDCR is obligated to treat as void and repeal that portion of section 3491, subdivision (b)(1) of title 15 of the California Code of Regulations challenged in the proceeding, and “to make any further conforming changes thereafter necessary to render the regulations consistent this court opinion.”

Edwards shall be evaluated for early parole consideration within 60 days of remittitur issuance, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shall thereafter proceed as required by law.

If the CDCR appeal is accepted, the process could theoretically take years. However, Unite the People staff remain confident that any appeal case would likely have a more realistic timeline of 6-to-9 months. We are taking into consideration the court-mandated prison reduction requirements that must be met in California. Releasing nonviolent offenders who remain incarcerated only because of CDCR stubbornness to fully implement Props 36, 47, and 57 is among the clearest paths to prison population reduction in the state while overcoming public safety objections.

Once the Edwards decision goes into effect, CDCR will be required to follow the process established by Prop 57 for Nonviolent Offender Parole Review. In summary,

“A nonviolent offender parole review is a process in which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation refers certain nonviolent offenders to the board for review and possible release, once the inmate has served the full term of his or her primary offense and has passed a public safety screening. Inmates are reviewed for release based on their criminal history, a review of their institutional records, and after consideration of input received from the inmate, victims, victims’ families, and the district attorney’s office that prosecuted the inmate. A decision is rendered after an administrative review of relevant and reliable documents; no hearing is conducted.

Within five business days of referral from the department, the board will send notices to victims and their family members who are registered with the Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services. The board will also send a notice to the district attorney’s office that prosecuted the inmate. The notices alert the victim, victim’s family, and the district attorney’s office that the inmate has been referred to the board for review and possible release. The notices also explain that victims, their families, and the district attorney’s office have an opportunity to submit a written statement to the board for its consideration when determining whether the inmate should be released. Written statements should be submitted to the board by the victim, victims’ family, and the district attorney’s office within 30 days from the date of the board’s notice.”

As more information becomes available, Unite the People will continue to update this page.

Judson Parker1 Comment