California voters approved Proposition 9, the Victim's Bill of Rights Act, in 2008. Better known as Marsy's Law, the Act expanded the rights of victims to be notified of parole hearings, present information to the Board of Parole Hearings, and to require the Board to consider the "entire and uninterrupted" statements of victims, their families and their representatives. It also amended California Penal Code §3041.5 to increase the period of time between parole hearings, while still allowing for earlier hearings if a change in circumstances or new information subsequently established that there was a reasonable probability a prisoner was suitable for parole.
California applied Marsy's Law uniformly to prisoners incarcerated before and after the initiative was approved, but prisoners like Michael Vicks question whether the law is fair.
In 1983, Vicks was convicted of numerous violent felonies and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, on top of a second term of 37 years, 8 months. Vicks began serving his life term on March 13, 2003. His minimum eligible parole date was March 14, 2010, and his initial parole suitability hearing was held on February 3, 2009. Applying §3041.5 as amended by Marsy's Law, the Board found him unsuitable for parole, and further concluded that he should be denied another parole hearing for five years.
Vicks claims that Marsy's Law is an ex post facto law when applied to anyone who was in jail before the law became effective. Two lower courts sided with Vicks. This week, however, the California Supreme Court reversed those decisions, holding that the law should be applied to life sentence prisoners, regardless of when they were sentences.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote for the court, "Although multiple changes to the parole scheme contribute to longer periods between hearings, the changes have no cumulative effect that would create a significant risk of prolonged incarceration," The Associated Press reports.
- In re Vicks (FindLaw's CaseLaw)
- California High Court Upholds Marsy's Law Delays in Parole Hearings (Los Angeles Times)
- How Officials Determine Parole Eligibility (FindLaw's Blotter)