“Insight into California’s Life Sentences” (click for PDF), written by our Managing Attorney, Keith Wattley, appears in the April 2013 issue of the Federal Sentencing Reporter.
Here is an abstract of the article:
California currently has more than three times as many lifers as the state with the next highest total (New York). As the nation’s leader in handing out life sentences, California provides a useful model for studying the unique challenges inherent in the administration of indeterminate sentences. This article reviews the history of life sentences in California, the state’s statutory and regulatory framework governing parole decisions, and the judiciary’s ongoing role in preventing abuse by the Board of Parole Hearings and the Governor in the administration of life sentences. Having shifted away from ostensibly objective measures of proportionality between the gravity of the crime and the length of the sentence, California’s parole authorities now focus on individual prisoners and subjective assessments of their rehabilitative efforts.
The author points to two potentially conflicting trends. First, there appears to be a national trend away from mandatory sentencing and toward discretionary release. At the same time, there is a trend toward enhancing the rights of crime victims and their survivors in preventing parole release, including by limiting lifers’ access to hearings at which parole applications can be considered. In closing, the article emphasizes that, while California may provide useful guidance in identifying some challenges of administrating a discretionary parole system, there remains a need for further judicial, legislative and regulatory developments in creating a fair and acceptable model.