California Supreme Court rules that 2016 ballot measure made certain sex offenders eligible for early parole

On December 28, 2020, the California Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled that Proposition 57’s provision to increase parole opportunities for those convicted of nonviolent offenses applies to sex offenders. California Proposition 57 was approved at the election on November 8, 2016, receiving 64.5% of the vote.

Proposition 57 required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR) to enact a parole review program in which felons convicted of nonviolent crimes could be released on parole upon the completion of the sentence for his or her offense with the longest imprisonment term. The CDCR adopted a regulation that excluded persons convicted of sexual offenses from the definition of nonviolent offender.

The Alliance for Constitutional Sex Offense Laws (ACSOL) sued the department, arguing that the CDCR’s categorical exclusion of people convicted of sexual offenses was not consistent with Proposition 57. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), a sponsor of Proposition 57, argued that the ballot initiative did not grant earlier parole hearings to sex offenders.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the CDCR’s regulations creating a categorical exclusion of people convicted for registrable sex offenses from earlier parole were unconstitutional. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote the court’s opinion. Cantil-Sakauye stated that Proposition 57 entitled sex offenders convicted of crimes considered nonviolent to parole hearings. Justice Cantil-Sakauye also wrote that being eligible for parole hearings does not require an earlier release of an inmate. Regulations allow parole boards to consider a person’s threat to public safety in determining eligibility for early release.

Voters rejected Proposition 20, a measure that would have amended Proposition 57, on November 3, 2020. Proposition 20 would have defined 51 crimes and sentence enhancements, including some additional sexual crimes, as violent in order to exclude them from Proposition 57’s nonviolent offender parole program. Proposition 20 would have also made specific types of theft and fraud crimes, including firearm theft, vehicle theft, and unlawful use of a credit card, chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies, rather than misdemeanors. 

Amending Proposition 57, which is coded in the California Constitution, would require a ballot measure. For the state Legislature to propose an amendment, a two-thirds vote is required in each legislative chamber. For a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, 997,139 signatures would be required. Constitutional amendments, whether proposed by the legislature or ballot initiative, require voter approval to be enacted.

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About the author

Ryan Byrne

Ryan Byrne is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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