This week, SB 81, having been approved by the Senate, will land on Governor Newsom’s desk. The bill addresses judicial review of the parole board’s decision to deny parole. The latest edition of the bill, if passed, will add the following language as Section 3041.8 to the California Penal Code:

(a) Upon the denial of parole to a parole candidate, following a parole consideration hearing, the Board of Parole Hearings shall notify the parole candidate of their right, after completion of all applicable review periods, to petition a court for a writ of habeas corpus.

(b) The parole candidate may request that the court appoint counsel for the purpose of preparing the petition. The court may appoint counsel upon this request.

(c) A parole candidate who has been denied parole after reaching their minimum eligible parole date as described in Section 3041, their youth parole eligible date as defined in Section 3051, or their elderly parole eligible date as defined in Section 3055 has made a prima facie case for relief and the reviewing court may not summarily deny a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed pursuant to this section.

(d) The court shall uphold a decision to deny parole only if the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the person presents a current, unreasonable risk of danger to others. If the court finds the parole denial was not supported by a preponderance of the evidence, the court may issue an order for a new parole hearing, with or without limitations as to what evidence the Board of Parole Hearings may consider.

The most notable aspect of this proposal is that it sets an evidentiary standard for the court’s decision. While the reasons for the parole denial will remain vague (“insight,” “nexus,” etc.), at least the evidentiary side of things will be better grounded.

This is not just semantic or technical. Recall how Gov. Newsom vetoed Leslie Van Houten’s parole, arguing that she was still a risk to public safety? And how the Court of Appeal called his bluff? Here’s what they said: “The Governor’s concern that there is more than meets the eye is, on this record, speculation, but the Governor’s ‘decisions must be supported by some evidence, not merely by a hunch or intuition.'” The latter part is language from In re Lawrence. It will be good to have all this grounded in actual probability and common sense, not just in the gut feelings of people whose default is to be overly cautious about release.

DO SOMETHING! If this seems like a good idea to you, call the Governor’s Office at (916) 445-2841 and express your support for more robust and well-framed judicial overview of parole boards.

Happy New Jewish Year to all. May we all become מתירי אסורים – unchaining those suffering in bondage – this year and always.

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