Colusa County District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp last week joined two-thirds of California district attorneys in a lawsuit against the state seeking to block an emergency rule that could potentially grant early release to thousands of violent and serious offenders.
The lawsuit, initiated by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, on May 25, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to prohibit the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from awarding additional conduct credits, known as “time off for good behavior,” to about 76,000 inmates.
Colusa County has a number of violent offenders with pending releases, including Ralph Leon and Joshua Valentine, who were covicted as teenagers and sentenced in 2001 to 25-years-to-life for the brutal murder of a 68-year-old Colusa woman in an apparent robbery.
The California Highway Patrol found the mutilated body of Mary Lewis on Aug. 5, 2000, after her stolen car had been involved in a hit-and-run collision in Sutter.
Lewis had been bound and stabbed more than 90 times, according to then District Attorney John Poyner. Leon, who was 19 at the time, and Valentine, 16, were arrested about three weeks later and pleaded guilty to the crime in order to avoid a possible life sentence.
“Allowing the early release of the most dangerous criminals, shortening sentences by as much as 50 percent, impacts crime victims and creates a serious public safety risk,” Schubert said in a statement. “This lawsuit asks the court to enjoin CDCR from awarding these credits unless and until these regulations are exposed to a fair, honest, and transparent debate, where the public has input on dramatic changes made through the regulatory process.”
The CDCR’s additional good conduct credits were the product of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s emergency regulations, which were passed and first made public on April 30, Beauchamp said in a press release. In adopting these regulations, and claiming an emergency, CDCR Secretary Kathleen Allison stated these regulations were necessary to comply with “the direction outlined in the Governor’s Budget Summary” presented nearly a year earlier on May 14, 2020.
The district attorneys said the award of the additional credits from the temporary regulations could allow the shortening of sentences for over 76,000 inmates, about 20,000 who had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and over 10,000 prisoners who had been convicted of a second serious, but nonviolent offense under California’s “three strikes” law.
Beauchamp said by invoking an emergency, the traditional regulatory scheme and transparent public comment period was bypassed.
It is unknown if Newsom’s emergency order will affect an early release for Lewis’ killers. Leon, 39, who is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, in Ione, allegedly has had disciplinary issues while in prison, including drug use. His current eligibility for parole has been pushed to May 2024. Valentine, 37, is imprisoned at Valley State Prison, in Chowchilla. He is eligible for parole in May of next year.
The lawsuit by 44 for California’s 58 district attorneys, objected to the CDCR on procedural grounds, arguing the CDCR used the emergency declaration to bypass the usual regulatory and public comment process.
“The purpose of the emergency procedure outlined in the Penal Code is to immediately put into place regulations on an emergency basis,” Beauchamp stated. “CDCR provides no ‘description of the underlying facts and an explanation of the operational need to use the emergency rulemaking procedure’ in the proposed regulations as required by the Code.”
The lawsuit seeks the Superior Court to declare the regulations unlawful and to prohibit CDCR from awarding these additional credits until CDCR lawfully complies with the regulatory process, which would include a transparent and rigorous public comment period. §