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California Prisons Must Shed 30K Inmates, Supreme Court Rules

By Robin Enos | Last updated on

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the California prisoner release case this week, affirming a prior federal court order that California release 30,000 inmates from its prison system.

Now California's governor and Legislature will have two years to come up with a plan to draw the prison population down from 200% of capacity to 137%, reports the San Jose Mercury-News.

Meanwhile, prison authorities will likely continue a process begun after the original 2009 trial court order. Since that order came down, California prison authorities have released about 6,000 non-violent inmates, reports CNN.

Justice Kennedy's opinion leaves intact a 2010 three-judge Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, holding that conditions in California's prison unconstitutionally deprived inmates of medical and mental health care, reports the Mercury-News.

"This case arises from serious constitutional violations in California's prison system. The violations have persisted for years. They remain uncorrected," wrote Justice Kennedy for the majority.

Gov. Jerry Brown, when he was Attorney General appealed the original trial court order, and filed for certiorari review in the U.S. Supreme Court. Now Brown has to work with a ruling his Justice Dept. opposed.

Brown has proposed a plan to release some low-level offenders to county jails to serve their time, reports the Mercury-News.

County sheriffs and jail officials have complained about the effect of the ruling on county jail budgets all over California, reports the Mercury-News.

What does this new ruling mean for small law offices?

After reviewing Justice Kennedy's opinion, any attorney with former or present clients in prison might be thinking about filing for habeas corpus relief, or other process directed at freeing their clients. If grounds otherwise exist, this new Supreme Court ruling on California prison overcrowding might, in the right case, tilt the equities toward release.

We anticipate calls for release of non-violent offenders, those with compelling health issues, or those who have served most of their sentence with a good prison record.

The prison system is probably already getting calls about California prisoner release under the Supreme Court's overcrowding ruling.

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