Newsom Pardons 37, Commutes Sentences for 14 Murderers and 4 Others


Recipients of commuted sentences include Tyson Atlas, who killed a rival gang member in 2006, and Michael Ogg, who killed an individual in Santa Barbara in 1993

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced pardons and sentence commutations for dozens of individuals late in the day March 29, on a Friday before Easter weekend.

Mr. Newsom approved 37 pardons and 18 commutations—14 of the latter inmates were previously convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. The other four were given life sentences in prior decades for attempted murder.

One critic said the move is a continuation of progressive policies aimed at reducing prison populations.

“It’s no secret that the governor is soft on crime,” state Sen. Brian Dahle told The Epoch Times April 1. “He wants to shut down our prisons and let people out.”

He argued that violent criminals sentenced to life without parole should not be released back into society, especially as “crime is running rampant in California.”

“These aren’t just people who were selling marijuana before it was legal, these are people that committed crimes against other people,” Mr. Dahle said. “What about the victims?”

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Downplaying fears that some could reoffend once released, the governor said he considers every case on an individual basis.

“The governor weighs numerous factors in his review of clemency applications, including an applicant’s self-development and conduct since the offense, whether the grant is in the interest of justice, and the impact of a grant on the community, including crime victims and survivors,” a press release from Mr. Newsom’s office reads.

Recipients of commuted sentences for those serving life without parole include Tyson Atlas—convicted of killing a rival gang member in 2006—and Michael Ogg—sentenced for the 1993 kidnapping, robbery, and murder of an individual in Santa Barbara, California—among others.

The commutation documents signed by Mr. Newsom acknowledge that the 14 individuals committed serious crimes that took victims’ lives but argued the inmates have since demonstrated a commitment to rehabilitation.

“I have carefully considered and weighed the evidence,” Mr. Newsom said in the documents.

By issuing commutations, life without parole convictions are changed to life with the possibility of parole, and the state’s parole board will ultimately determine whether the inmates deserve to be released.

State law mandates that all persons convicted of first-degree murder are to be sentenced to death or life without parole. With the governor’s 2019 executive order issuing a moratorium on death sentences in California, those sentenced to death automatically received modified sentences to life without parole (LWOP).

Some critics of life-long imprisonment say parole should be an option for all inmates, regardless of the crime committed—noting a United Nations proclamation suggesting such sentences should be outlawed in most instances.

“The fight to end LWOP and death-by-incarceration sentences is growing in California, the country and world—the courts, the legislature, the media, through community-based organizations, and on the international stage, where the United Nations recently urged the United States to place a moratorium on [life without parole] and make all sentences parole-eligible,” Kelly Savage-Rodriguez, a coordinator of the Drop LWOP coalition—a California-based nonprofit focused on eliminating lifelong sentences—said in a March 2024 press release.

Senate Bill 94, introduced last year and currently held by the Assembly, also seeks to eliminate such sentences for murder, excepting those who kill a peace officer.

Some legal experts argue that commuted sentences for murderers on a case-by-case basis are detrimental to the legal system and suggest that any changes should be uniformly applied by a change to statutes initiated by the Legislature.

“Any reconsideration should come through the processes of legislative and judicial action that will apply across the board. It should not come by way of individualized commutation decisions,” Jing Cao said in a judicial doctoral dissertation submitted to Fordham University School of Law in 2015. “For that reason, this article contends that rehabilitation should not be considered as a ground for commuting LWOP sentences.”

Mr. Newsom has granted 181 pardons, 141 commutations, and 40 sentence reprieves since taking office in 2019. Using the authority granted by the California Constitution, the governor said such clemency is beneficial to the state.

“The governor regards clemency as an important part of the criminal justice system that can incentivize accountability and rehabilitation, increase public safety by removing counterproductive barriers to successful reentry, correct unjust results in the legal system, and address the health needs of incarcerated people with high medical risks,” a press release from Mr. Newsom’s office said.

The decisions were made because the governor believes the individuals have expressed accountability and repaid their debt to society, according to the documents signed by Mr. Newsom.

While convictions are not erased or expunged by pardons, some civic rights are restored. All 37 pardons issued are for individuals that already served their sentences and are intended to “remove counterproductive barriers to employment and public service, restore civic rights and responsibilities, and prevent unjust collateral consequences of conviction, such as deportation and permanent family separation,” the press release said.

Victim’s families, survivors, and witnesses are encouraged by the governor to register with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s survivors’ rights and services office to learn about offenders’ status and to receive notice about potential release dates.


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