Parole in California is becoming more likely depending upon many factors. As a result of a federal court ruling, Governor Jerry Brown has finally had to deal with heavy prison overcrowding which led to what the United States Supreme Court has ruled are cruel and unusual conditions in the California State Prison system. Ever since the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Plata on May 23, 2011, the Governor of CA has struggled to find an answer to the overcrowding issue in California prisons and has finally begun to release certain prisoners early who are eligible for parole. (see http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20140225/record-number-of-inmates-serving-life-sentences-leaving-california-prisons)
In terms of prisoners serving “life sentences,” the following counties have released prisoners this year alone as follows: Los Angeles County: 245 parolees; San Diego County: 45 persons released; and San Bernardino County had the third most with 36 people granted release on conditions of parole. This number only includes prisoners serving life sentences and does not include prisoners serving lesser time. Such other prisoners are being released based on other criteria such as the length of the sentence, the nature of the crime and the age of the inmate. If you believe that you may have a valid reason to be released early, you and/or a family member may want to retain a California criminal defense lawyer who has experience doing post-trial, appellate and habeas corpus work.
Life Sentence Without Parole Under Cal. Law
Some may ask how can a person with a life sentence be released from prison at all? The California sentencing procedure can be very complicated and one must consult with an experienced California Criminal Defense Lawyer especially if they are facing a life sentence. The only life sentence where someone is technically not eligible for parole is a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Typically, these sentences arise out of first degree murder convictions stemming from charges under California Penal Code section 187. Often times, such sentences are issued in what start out to be death penalty cases and can be a result of a settlement after a conviction in a death penalty case but prior to the sentencing phase being determined. These are clearly the most serious and life altering charges and one must immediately consult with a seasoned criminal defense attorney if facing murder and/or death penalty charges.
Life With the Possibility of Parole in CA
If someone is just given a life sentence with no determinate number attached, their first chance of receiving parole usually occurs after serving the first seven years of a life sentence as set forth in California Penal Code section 3046. Normally, California prisons don’t often release prisoners serving life sentences after only seven years of serving a life sentence. However, given the prison crowding issue in California, prisoners are being released much earlier than usual.
Technically, after seven years, a person serving an “indeterminate” life sentence must be paroled where the parole board determines the prisoner is no longer a threat unless there is firm evidence indicating they are still a threat. Such parole hearings are often attended by the victims who make very passionate and persuasive statements in an attempt to have a parole board deny parole. When facing a parole release hearing, it is advisable to consult with an experienced California Parole Attorney who can represent you at the hearing and call not only lay witnesses to support your relief but even expert witnesses who can testify that a prisoner is no longer a threat.
15 to Life and 25 to Life Terms in CA
Questions have arisen given the recent prison releases as to whether someone serving a 15 to Life or 25 to Life term can be released early from prison given the decision in Brown v. Plata . As explained above, a “life” sentence that does not include a minimum sentence requires a prisoner serve at least seven years of a life sentence. However, there are exceptions to that rule such as when a person is convicted of a life charge related to a street gang under California Penal Code section 186.22 which requires a prisoner serve a minimum of 15 years prior to a parole determination.
Some convictions which carry a minimum of 15 to life sentences can have the 15 year minimum reduced by good time conduct credits which usually result in a 20% reduction in sentence depending upon the charges related to the conviction. In other cases, the full 15 years must be served before parole eligibility.
Likewise, if a person is convicted of First Degree Murder and given a sentence of 25 years to life under California Penal Code section 190, parole eligibility which not occur until the first 25 years of the sentence has been served.
Importance of Retaining A Criminal Defense Attorney Familiar With California Sentencing Laws Including Parole Issues
If you or a loved one is facing charges where a life sentence or long sentence is even a possibility, I would not rely on the California prison system to grant any early releases barring extraordinary circumstances. As such, once arrested, you should consult with an experienced California Criminal Defense attorney to explore avoiding any long prison sentence or prison sentence whatsoever in a California prison. Hiring a lawyer familiar with the parole process at the onset of charges can increase the chances of receiving a sentence involving the possibility of being paroled. Likewise, hiring legal counsel to assist persons already sentenced get a fair hearing or re-hearing of a parole request can make the difference between the defendant spending the rest of their lives behind bars or being released into society and being given a second chance. Call for a free consultation (310) 623-3771 on any CA parole sentencing issue.