California’s Highest Court Upholds Parole Delays Under Marsy’s Law
In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 9, the Victim’s Bill of Rights Act. Also known as Marsy’s Law, the Act expanded the rights of victims to be notified of parole hearings, present information to the Board of Parole Hearings, and to require the Board to consider the “entire and uninterrupted” statements of victims, their families and their representatives. The Act also amended California Penal Code §3041.5 to increase the amount of time between parole hearings, while still allowing for earlier hearings if a change in circumstances or new information establishes a reasonable likelihood that consideration of the public safety does not require the additional period of incarceration of the inmate.
Marsy’s Law expanded the legal rights of crime victims, including notifying them of all court proceedings and parole hearings. The law was intended to spare victims from having to attend parole hearings as often as every year and imposed minimum lengths of seven, 10 and 15 years between parole hearings for certain prisoners serving life sentences with the chance of parole. Before Marsy’s Law was enacted, the maximum time between parole hearings was five years for murder and two years for all other convictions.
California Supreme Court Rules Marsy’s Law Applies to All “Lifers”
Marsy’s Law was applied uniformly to prisoners incarcerated before and after the initiative was approved. The state Supreme Court ruling was prompted by the case of Michael Vicks, who in 1983 was convicted of 16 violent felonies, including kidnapping and sexual assault. Vicks was sentenced to life in prison. Vicks argued that he was unfairly subjected to the new parole hearing schedule in violation of state and federal bars on “ex post facto” laws. Those prohibited laws change punishment for behavior after conviction, and Vicks argued the new parole hearing schedule guaranteed him a longer sentence than before Marsy’s Law passed.
The California Supreme Court overturned two lower court rulings in favor of Vicks, determining that Marsy’s Law applies to all inmates serving life sentences, not just those sentenced after the law passed. The court also held that Vicks failed to provide any evidence that the imposition of Marsy’s Law resulted in a longer period of incarceration for Vicks.
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