A federal court in Sacramento has ruled that provisions of Proposition 9  relating to parole revocation are invalid and should not be implemented.  In his order in Valdivia v. Brown on January 24, 2012,  U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton, found that Proposition 9, a California ballot measure approved by voters in 2009, “violates parolees’ right to a neutral decision-maker by placing a thumb on the scale of justice and tipping the balance towards incarceration.”  RBG and co-counsel Geoff Holtz at Bingham McCutchen briefed the issue, which was successfully argued by Geoff Holtz on behalf of the Valdivia class.

According to a San Francisco Chronicle story on January 27 about the decision,  “Ernest Galvan, a lawyer for the parolees, said the ruling promotes fairness without endangering the public.  ‘When you cut back on the fairness of the hearing process, you’re hurting public safety by locking up people without being sure whether they’re even the right people or whether they’re dangerous,’  he said.”

The Sacramento Bee reported on the decision on January 26 , noting that “The requirements missing from California’s law include ‘a written summary of the proceedings and of the revocation decision, the opportunity to present documentary evidence and witnesses, and disclosure to the parolee of the evidence against him,’ Judge Karlton wrote in a 26-page order.  The judge held that an injunction he issued in 2004 as part of a now-18-year-old, still-ongoing class-action lawsuit on behalf of parolees is ‘necessary to remedy constitutional violations created’ four years later by the voters.”

The Valdivia case began in 1994.  The  2004 injunction was 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.