In re Edwards, 090718 CAAPP2, B288086

Docket Nº:B288086
Opinion Judge:BAKER, ACTING P. J.
Party Name:In re VICENSON D. EDWARDS, on Habeas Corpus.
Attorney:Michael Satris, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Petitioner. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Phillip J. Lindsay, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Jessica N. Blonien, Julie A. Malone, Supervising Deputy Attorneys General and Charles Chung, Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent.
Judge Panel:We concur: MOOR, J. SEIGLE, J.
Case Date:September 07, 2018
Court:California Court of Appeals
 
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In re VICENSON D. EDWARDS, on Habeas Corpus.

B288086

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fifth Division

September 7, 2018

ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS; petition for writ of habeas corpus., No. NA028053 Laura L. Laesecke, Judge. Petition granted.

Michael Satris, under appointment by the Court of Appeal, for Petitioner.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Phillip J. Lindsay, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Jessica N. Blonien, Julie A. Malone, Supervising Deputy Attorneys General and Charles Chung, Deputy Attorney General, for Respondent.

BAKER, ACTING P. J.

Proposition 57, approved by California voters in 2016, added a provision to California's Constitution that reads: “Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.” (Cal. Const., art. I, § 32, subd. (a)(1) (hereafter section 32(a)(1)).) The newly added constitutional provision defines “the full term for the primary offense” as “the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence.” (§ 32(a)(1)(A).) We consider whether Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) regulations adopted to implement this constitutional amendment validly exclude admittedly nonviolent “Third Strike” offenders sentenced to indeterminate terms from Proposition 57 relief.

I. BACKGROUND

Petitioner Vicenson D. Edwards (Edwards) is currently serving an indeterminate life sentence in state prison, imposed pursuant to the Three Strikes law (Pen. Code, §§ 667, subds. (b)-(i), 1170.12). He sustained the convictions that triggered his 53-years-to-life sentence-felon in possession of a firearm (former Pen. Code, § 12021) and evading a police officer while driving recklessly (Veh. Code, § 2800.2)-in 1998.1 This court affirmed these convictions and the sentence imposed (with modifications) on direct appeal.

Some twenty years later, following enactment of Proposition 57, Edwards filed a habeas corpus petition challenging regulations CDCR promulgated, initially on an emergency basis (see discussion, post), that made him ineligible to seek Proposition 57 relief. We directed the California Appellate Project to appoint counsel, and appointed counsel filed an amended petition. We then issued an order directing CDCR to show cause why the relief sought in the petition should not be granted.

The Attorney General, on CDCR's behalf, filed a return defending the emergency regulations and maintaining Edwards was ineligible for Proposition 57 relief. Shortly before Edwards filed his traverse, CDCR promulgated final regulations that altered CDCR's theory on which inmates like Edwards would be deemed ineligible for relief (again, see discussion, post). We solicited supplemental briefs from the parties concerning the newly issued final regulations-both sides adhered to the bottom line positions taken in their principal briefing-and we now decide the interpretive dispute.

II. DISCUSSION

California voters approved Proposition 57, dubbed the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, at the November 2016 general election. As relevant here, the (uncodified) text of Proposition 57 declares the voters' purposes in approving the measure were to: “1. Protect and enhance public safety. [¶] 2. Save money by reducing wasteful spending on prisons. [¶] 3. Prevent federal courts from indiscriminately releasing prisoners. [¶] 4. Stop the revolving door of crime by emphasizing rehabilitation, especially for juveniles.” (Ballot Pamp., Gen. Elec. (Nov. 8, 2016) text of Prop. 57, p. 141 [§ 2].) The text of section 32(a)(1) that furthers these purposes is of course crucial to the question we decide, so we shall reiterate the key language. Under section 32(a)(1), “Any person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense.” (§ 32(a)(1).) And for purposes of section 32(a)(1), “the full term for the primary offense means the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence.” (§ 32(a)(1)(A).)

Parsing this language, it is obvious the electorate intended to establish a new rule: all nonviolent state prisoners are eligible for parole consideration, and they are eligible when they complete the full term for their primary offense. CDCR's implementing regulations, as finally adopted, concede Edwards and similarly situated prisoners are nonviolent, but the regulations seize on section 32(a)(1)'s language that establishes when nonviolent inmates like Edwards are entitled to parole consideration to deny them eligibility for relief altogether. CDCR, represented by the Attorney General, argues the reference to “the full term for the primary offense” can only refer to a determinate sentence, and because Edwards and others like him are serving indeterminate sentences, the regulations properly deem him ineligible for relief because he has completed no full term that was “imposed by the court.” We hold this regulatory approach is inconsistent with the newly added constitutional command-most prominently the language that specifies the full term of the primary offense must be calculated “excluding the imposition of... [an] alternative sentence.” We shall invalidate the offending provisions of the CDCR regulations for that reason.

A. Legal Background

1. The Three Strikes law

“The Three Strikes law consists of two, nearly identical statutory schemes designed to increase the prison terms of repeat felons. The earlier provision, which the Legislature enacted, was codified as [Penal Code] section 667, subdivisions (b) through (i). The later provision, which the voters adopted through the initiative process, was codified as [Penal Code] section...

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