SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled two California laws enacted through the initiative process are unconstitutional because they retrospectively increase the punishments for crimes committed before the laws came into effect.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton of Sacramento issued a 58-page order on Friday, ruling that the so-called “Victims’ Bill of Rights” and another law that allows the governor to reverse approved paroles cannot be enforced.
Voters passed Proposition 9 in 2008, mandating longer periods of time between parole hearings.
The Sacramento Bee reports Karlton found that law “creates a significant risk” of longer sentences for prisoners than those they faced when their crimes were committed. His conclusion, Karlton said, was based on evidence presented at a non-jury trial before him last year as well as evidence submitted by prisoners’ attorneys showing terms that had been lengthened by the law.
His injunction effectively blocks state enforcement of the law. It also instructs the Board of Parole Hearings to revert to a statute in effect before Proposition 9 passed that governs the spacing of parole hearings and guaranteed thousands of prisoners an annual suitability hearing.
In 1988, voters passed Proposition 89, allowing governors to review and reverse paroles in murder cases that the board had already approved by the board.
Karlton’s ruling Friday said that every governor has abused that power since the measure passed by blocking many of the paroles they reviewed.
“In practice,” he wrote, “the governors have used it to tip the scales against parole. Thus, while the governors could use the law to review parole decisions to ensure that they are accurate and fair, they appear to have no such concern about decisions that deny parole.”
The judge also ordered the governor to stop reversing already-approved paroles and to apply the same factors considered by the board.
One of Karlton’s previous rulings also had blocked elements of Proposition 9 from going forward, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down his decision.