Marsy's Law and Landmark California Cases

Marsy's Law speaks of victims' rights in "release proceedings" in the "criminal justice system." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subds. (a)(2), (b)(7).) Marsy's Law also refers to "release decisions" under Marsy's Law, but the only reference to "decisions" as different from "proceedings" is that victims have the right to have their safety considered before any parole or other postjudgment release decision. (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (b)(16).) This provision says nothing about notice or opportunity to be heard. The other reference to "decision" is the right to be heard "at any proceeding ... involving a ... post-conviction release decision." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (b)(8).) "Proceeding" is a "malleable term" the meaning of which depends on the context in which it is used. (The Recorder v. Commission on Judicial Performance (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 258, 270 85 Cal. Rptr. 2d 56.) In the constitutional provisions, Marsy's Law "finds and declares" that "victims of crime are entitled to have the criminal justice system view criminal acts as serious threats to the safety and welfare of the people of California. The enactment of comprehensive provisions and laws ensuring a bill of rights for victims of crime, including safeguards in the criminal justice system fully protecting those rights and ensuring that crime victims are treated with respect and dignity, is a matter of high public importance. California's victims of crime are largely dependent upon the proper functioning of government, upon the criminal justice system and upon the expeditious enforcement of the rights of victims of crime described herein, in order to protect the public safety and to secure justice ... . The rights of victims pervade the criminal justice system. ..." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (a)(2)-(3).) Marsy's Law also states: "Victims of crime have a collectively shared right to expect that persons convicted of committing criminal acts are sufficiently punished in both the manner and the length of the sentences imposed by the courts of the State of California. This right includes the right to expect that the punitive and deterrent effect of custodial sentences imposed by the courts will not be undercut or diminished by the granting of rights and privileges to prisoners that are not required by any provision of the United States Constitution or by the laws of this State to be granted to any person incarcerated in a penal or other custodial facility in this State as a punishment or correction for the commission of a crime. ... Victims of crime are entitled to finality in their criminal cases. Lengthy appeals and other post-judgment proceedings that challenge criminal convictions, frequent and difficult parole hearings that threaten to release criminal offenders, and the ongoing threat that the sentences of criminal wrongdoers will be reduced, prolong the suffering of crime victims for many years after the crimes themselves have been perpetrated. This prolonged suffering of crime victims and their families must come to an end. ... ... To accomplish the goals it is necessary that the laws of California relating to the criminal justice process be amended in order to protect the legitimate rights of victims of crime." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (a)(5)-(6), (8).) Marsy's Law states: "In order to preserve and protect a victim's rights to justice and due process, a victim shall be entitled to the following rights: ... (7) To reasonable notice of all public proceedings, including delinquency proceedings, upon request, at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present and of all parole or other post-conviction release proceedings, and to be present at all such proceedings. (8) To be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue. ... (12) To be informed, upon request, of the conviction, sentence, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the defendant, the scheduled release date of the defendant, and the release of or the escape by the defendant from custody. ... (15) To be informed of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to the parole authority to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified, upon request, of the parole or other release of the offender. (16) To have the safety of the victim, the victim's family, and the general public considered before any parole or other post-judgment release decision is made. ..." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (b).) Victims and prosecuting attorneys "may enforce the rights enumerated in subdivision (b) in any trial or appellate court with jurisdiction over the case as a matter of right." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (c)(1).) "The court in its discretion may extend the right to be heard at sentencing to any person harmed by the defendant. The parole authority shall extend the right to be heard at a parole hearing to any person harmed by the offender." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (d), italics added.) "The current process for parole hearings is excessive, especially in cases in which the defendant has been convicted of murder. The parole hearing process must be reformed for the benefit of crime victims." (Cal. Const., art. I, 28, subd. (f)(6).) In addition to amending the Constitution, Marsy's Law also amended parole statutes--to limit the frequency of parole applications and require the Board of Parole Hearings to consider victims' views and interests in making parole decisions ( 3041.5), to expand the rights of victims to present information to the parole board and require the board to consider "entire and uninterrupted" statements of victims, their families and their representatives ( 3043, subd. (d)), and to make the parole board responsible for protecting victims' rights in the parole process ( 3044). (See In re Vicks (2013) 56 Cal.4th 274, 280 153 Cal. Rptr. 3d 471, 295 P.3d 863 (Vicks) upheld Marsy's Law amendment of 3041.5 generally depriving inmates of another parole hearing within five years after denial of parole.) Marsy's Law also added to the section 679.026, which requires law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to give each crime victim a list of "Marsy Rights." Marsy's Law nowhere mentions executive clemency and did not amend or add to the executive clemency statutes ( 4800-4813), discussed post. Marsy's Law mentions only "parole" and "other" post-conviction proceedings or decisions that are part of the "criminal justice system."