The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that inmates who have been convicted of nonviolent sex crimes may be eligible for early parole consideration as part of a ballot measure that nearly two-thirds of voters approved of four years ago.
“The initiative’s language provides no indication that the voters intended to allow the (Corrections) Department to create a wholesale exclusion from parole consideration based on an inmate’s sex offense convictions when the inmate was convicted of a nonviolent felony,” wrote Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in the unanimous decision.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown, who championed the 2014 initiative as a way to reduce prison populations and costs by speeding up chances for parole, has repeatedly said he and other proponents never intended for it to cover sex offenders.
But lower appeals courts ruled that the plain language of the initiative means they cannot be excluded from consideration as nonviolent offenders, and the high court agreed.
The ballot measure, the justices ruled, “is not ambiguous concerning its scope regarding offenders who were previously convicted of a registerable sex offense or who are currently convicted of a registerable sex offense that the Department has itself defined as nonviolent.”
Under California law violent offenses include things like rape, sodomy and continuous sexual abuse of a child. But the definition leaves out many other offenses, like pimping, incest, indecent exposure and possessing child pornography.