State Net Criminal Law Update: Federal Court Grants California Prison Extension and Washington State Halts Death Penalty

State Net Criminal Law Update: Federal Court Grants California Prison Extension and Washington State Halts Death Penalty

FEDERAL COURT GRANTS CA PRISON EXTENSION: After enduring numerous rejections over the last three years, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) finally got a federal court to give him more time to ease the Golden State's longstanding prison overcrowding problem. A three-judge federal panel last Monday granted California a two-year extension to achieve the court's mandate to reduce the state's prison population to 137.5 percent of capacity.

The state will now have until Feb. 28, 2016 to make the reduction. But the panel's ruling came with conditions. The justices said they intend to appoint a compliance officer who will have the power to release prisoners if the state does not hit certain interim benchmarks, and the court limited how many inmates California will be able to send to out-of-state lock-ups. It also ordered officials to implement a series of immediate reduction measures, including increasing credits for nonviolent second-strike offenders and minimum custody inmates; setting earlier parole eligibility for some nonviolent offenders; easing parole for inmates who are older than 60 that have already served at least 25 years in prison; and expanding alternative custody programs for female inmates.

Brown hailed the ruling, saying in a statement that "the state now has the time and resources necessary to help inmates become productive members of society and make our communities safer."

Inmates' attorneys were not as happy. Michael Bien, a lawyer for some inmates, called the judges' ruling "dangerous and unjustified."

"This extension means two more years of suffering for inmates that should not have been granted," he added. (SACRAMENTO BEE, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, NEW YORK TIMES)

INSLEE HALTS WA DEATH PENALTY: Saying there are "too many flaws" in the capital punishment system, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced a moratorium last week on executions in the Evergreen State for the duration of his term as governor.

"During my term, we will not be executing people," he said.

Inslee's decision drew immediate criticism from capital punishment supporters like Rep. Jay Rodne (R), who called the moratorium a political distraction that harms the families of crime victims awaiting the execution of convicted murderers on death row.

"This must be a difficult day for these families as they are confronted with the reality that the governor cares more about a few convicted killers than justice for their loved ones," he said in a statement.

Others hailed the decision, including Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D), who has introduced multiple measures to eliminate capital punishment. Carlyle called Inslee's decision "a profound shift," adding that the governor "has opened a legitimate conversation. ... It sets in motion a legitimate and genuine public conversation."

In announcing the moratorium, Inslee noted his previous support for the death penalty. He said he had studied the issue for months before making a decision, including touring the state prison at Walla Walla and speaking with staff there as well as "law enforcement officers, prosecutors, former directors of the Department of Corrections, and the family members of the homicide victims." Ultimately, he said, he concluded that he had too many doubts about the system's fairness and its value as a deterrent.

Equal justice under the law is the state's primary responsibility. And in death penalty cases, I'm not convinced equal justice is served," he said. "The use of the death penalty in this state is unequally applied, sometimes dependent on the budget of the county where the crime occurred."

The governor said that any death penalty cases that come to him will receive a reprieve. He emphasized, however, that this does not mean he will commute the sentences or pardon any of the nine men currently on Washington's death row.


GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: Three former CALIFORNIA governors, Republicans Pete Wilson and George Deukmejian and Democrat Gray Davis, announced their support for a proposed ballot measure that would, among several things, establish a five-year deadline for deciding death row appeals and transfer most capital punishment cases from the state Supreme Court to lower courts. Supporters hope to get the measure on the ballot this November (LOS ANGELES TIMES).

CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The WYOMING Senate rejects SB 49, which would have allowed the state to use firing squads to execute condemned prisoners (STATE NET, CASPER STAR TRIBUNE).  • The PENNSYLVANIA House unanimously approves HB 1874, a bill that would require facilities that counsel sexually violent predators to notify police if they are providing services to those people. It moves to the Senate (STATE NET, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER). • The VIRGINIA House approves HB 326, so-called "revenge porn" legislation that would make it a crime for someone to post nude photos of someone else on the Internet. It moves to the Senate (DAILY PROGRESS [CHARLOTTESVILLE]). • The WYOMING House rejects HB 49, which would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana (WYOMING TRIBUNE EAGLE [CHEYENNE]).

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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