The federal district court in Sacramento today ordered the state parole authorities to refrain from implementing a recently enacted ballot measure, Proposition 9, in a way that would strip accused parole violators of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and a 2004 federal injunction. 

The March 26 ruling in Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger vindicates the critical public interest in ensuring that parole violations are used only where needed to protect public safety, and that scarce jail and prison resources are not wasted on persons falsely accused of parole violations, or whose violations do no merit time in custody.

The Court ordered California parole authorities to continue implementing the terms of a 2004 injunction entered by the Court to remedy systematic violations of constitutional rights under California’s former parole revocation system.  The former system resulted in parolees being held for months without hearings, and in hearings at which parolees did not receive assistance of counsel to bring forward critical evidence, and to question the evidence against the parolee.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972), that the public has a compelling interest in ensuring that parole is revoked only based on reliable evidence tested in a fair hearing.  This public interest would have been seriously undermined if the state implemented Proposition 9 in a manner that made the hearing process unreliable and unworkable.

The Valdivia consent decree system protects basic constitutional rights, and advances the public interest in a more reliable parole system, at a reasonable cost.  The poorly thought-out Proposition 9 system, would have not only impaired these rights, but would have further burdened the state budget with tens of millions of dollars of extra hearing and screenings costs, as well as the costs of unnecessary and prolonged incarceration.

Below are links to recent news coverage of the March 26, 2009 ruling:

Parole violators have right to state-provided attorneys, judge rules, LA Times, March 27, 2009

Judge Overturns Portion of Proposition 9, SF Chronicle, March 27, 2009