By JOSH FRIEDMAN
In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday that sex offenders who committed crimes deemed to have been nonviolent are eligible for early parole under a statewide ballot measure approved by voters in 2016. [SF Chronicle]
The ruling applies to sex offenders serving crimes such as pimping, possession of child pornography, indecent exposure, sex trafficking and certain types of rape.
On the Nov. 2016 ballot, 64 percent of California voters approved Proposition 57, an initiative sponsored by then-Gov. Jerry Brown that allows the state Board of Parole Hearings to consider releasing prisoners after they complete sentences for just their primary offenses, so long as the crimes are classified as nonviolent. Previously, state law required “nonviolent” offenders to spend additional years, sometimes decades, behind bars before being considered for parole because of factors like having prior convictions, gang membership and gun possession.
Since Prop. 57’s passage, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) had prohibited the parole board from considering early release for inmates serving time for offenses that required registration as a sex offender. Additionally, Brown had said Prop. 57 was not intended to allow early release for sex offenders.
However, the California Supreme Court ruled the CDCR’s regulations are not compliant with Prop. 57.
In a 7-0 ruling, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said the ballot measure declared “inmates convicted of nonviolent felony offenses ‘shall be eligible’ for parole consideration.”
Thus, inmates must be considered for release after completion of the sentence for their current crime, unless it was a violent offense, Cantil-Sakauye said. That even applies to inmates who have been convicted of violent crimes in the past, the chief justice added.
Cantil-Sakauye said Prop. 57 contained no language indicating voters intended to allow the CDCR to “create a wholesale exclusion from parole consideration based on an inmate’s sex offense convictions when the inmate was convicted of a nonviolent felony.”
As of 2018, CDCR rules had barred about 4,400 inmates from consideration for early release under Prop. 57.