Victims’ Groups Join Lawsuit to Block Cal. Inmate Releases
In a court filing today (August 18), two victims’ groups, Crime Victims United and Citizens Against Homicide, joined a lawsuit by district attorneys to block new regulations announced on May 1 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) making 76,000 inmates eligible for early release. A video of the press conference is here. The new regulations would allow the early release of criminals convicted of both violent and non-violent crimes, including murderers and sex offenders. Inmates that prison officials determine have behaved well or participated in rehabilitation programs would be eligible for release after serving one-half of their sentences.
On May 29, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert was joined by 43 other California district attorneys in a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction against CDCR to prevent the regulations from taking effect. The district attorneys argued that the CDCR rushed the regulations through an expedited process by claiming that the agency needed them to address an emergency, but provided no evidence indicating what the emergency was. They also argued that making thousands of violent criminals eligible for early release would threaten public safety. On July 14, a Sacramento Superior Court judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the releases but indicated that the district attorneys’ legal arguments were likely to prevail. However, the judge also expressed doubt that the district attorneys had legal standing to bring the suit and suggested that the complaint could be amended to bring in plaintiffs with such standing.
During the hearing, Deputy Attorney General Anthony Tartaglio arguing in support of the regulations said “At this point, defendants have no idea who these hypothetical new plaintiffs would be, how many of them there are, whether there are any potential defects in standing that the new plaintiffs might have, whether such plaintiffs are even willing to prosecute this case, which as we all know, litigation is expensive.” (emphasis added)
Unfortunately for the Governor and the Attorney General’s Office, the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (CJLF) and attorney Thomas Hiltachk are representing the victims groups free of charge. The members of these groups qualify as plaintiffs who will suffer personally if the criminals who assaulted them or murdered their family members are released years before their sentences are completed. Adding parties with legal standing will allow the suit to move forward.
In an amended complaint CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger and Hiltachk argue that the CDCR regulations cannot override state laws that govern the process by which inmates gain credits for good behavior. While the CDCR claims that it has this authority under Proposition 57, that ballot measure did not repeal existing laws regarding inmate releases.
“An administrative agency cannot, under its rule-making authority, override state laws passed by the Legislature or included in a ballot measure adopted by the voters,” said Scheidegger. “These proposed regulations enact a major policy change with a substantial impact on public safety. A change in the law of this magnitude must be enacted by the Legislature or the voters, not by the Governor through the CDCR,” he added.