Judge tosses Calif. standards for revoking parole

California's voter-approved standards for revoking parole violate parolees' rights to legal representation and tips the scale toward sending them back to prison, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in Sacramento issued Tuesday's ruling on parts of Proposition 9, which was approved in 2008 with 54 percent of the vote.

Known as Marsy's Law, the initiative was intended to add crime victims' rights to the state constitution.

Parolees had filed a class-action lawsuit against the state over provisions that didn't guarantee them a right to present evidence at hearings when they were accused of violating terms of their release and allowed parole agents to testify about incriminating statements by witnesses who were not in court.

Proposition 9 also required the parole board to consider the safety of victims and the public when deciding whether to revoke parole, without weighing the costs and burdens of imprisonment.

Karlton said in his ruling that it “violates parolees' right to a neutral decision-maker by placing a thumb on the scale of justice and tipping the balance towards incarceration,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/x16DyH ).

The judge previously struck down the parole provisions in 2009, saying they violated a previous order he had issued to protect parolees' rights. But an appeals court sent the case back, telling him to reconsider it by constitutional standards.

In Tuesday's decision, Karlton cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that parolees have a right to present evidence at revocation hearings and question all opposing witnesses, unless the state has a legitimate reason to keep a witness out of court, Karlton said.

Other provisions of Proposition 9, including one that extends the amount of time that prisoners must wait between parole hearings, remain intact.

Luis Patino, spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, told the Chronicle that officials are reviewing the ruling.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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