In December 2013, the First District Court of Appeal approved a settlement in the case In re Butler, effective April 2014, requiring the Board of Parole Hearings to notify life-term prisoners of their “base term” — the sentence they could expect to serve because of the circumstances of their crime — at their first parole hearing.
Once a life prisoner has served the base term, the board must grant parole at the next hearing unless it has evidence, which can be tested in court, that he or she is still dangerous. The base term is thus constitutionally significant because, as stated by Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline, it “indicates the point at which a prison term becomes constitutionally excessive,” and as such the notification requirement increases the likelihood of an appropriate sentence.
However, as reported in the SF Chronicle:
[I]nmates’ lawyers who negotiated the settlement say the board has violated its pledge [to provide prisoners proper notice of their base terms] more than 1,600 times.
More than 1,100 cases involved elderly inmates or those who were minors when convicted of serious crimes. The board claimed it was not required to notify those two groups, but a state appeals court has rejected that position. In 513 additional cases, inmates’ lawyers say, the parole board offered no justification for failing to provide the notice required by the settlement.
In a filing this week, attorneys for the lifers in this case have asked the court to hold the board in contempt and fine it $1,000 for each violation of the settlement agreement.
Read the full article here.