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Ruling could impact parole hearings for California inmates

Do victims' rights laws in California violate prison inmates' constitutional rights? A federal judge ruled that part of Marsy's Law violates inmates' rights who are serving life sentences. Marsy's Law was passed several years ago and increased the amount of time between parole hearings for prisoners serving indeterminate life sentences. The law changed parole hearings to every three years and also allows follow-up hearings to be deferred for up to 15 years. 

The judge's ruling that this part of the law is unconstitutional could result in significant changes for inmates serving indeterminate life sentences in California if they were convicted before the law went into effect. If the ruling is final, inmates convicted before Nov. 4, 2008, may be able to request a parole hearing every year. In some cases, inmates may have to wait up to five years between hearings if the state Board of Parole Hearings rules that a longer period is necessary for individual inmates.

The ruling will mainly impact individuals convicted of murder and other serious crimes who are serving life sentences in California. The new ruling would give them the opportunity for parole hearings every year, which means that some inmates may be released on parole much sooner than they previously thought. 

Victims' rights advocates were not happy with the judge's ruling, saying that attending parole hearings every year is very difficult for victims' family members because they often testify at parole hearings to try and keep inmates from getting parole. 

Despite their concerns, the judge's ruling could have a serious impact on many inmates in California. If the ruling stands, many inmates may find themselves in parole hearings every year with a better chance of getting parole and re-entering society. 

Source: Orange County Register, "Victims' rights law unfairly limits parole hearings, judge rules," Vik Jolly and Claudia Koerner, March 4, 2014

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