John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. He currently serves as an adjunct professor in clinical trial advocacy at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
Today's Sacramento Bee has a front-page piece questioning the response of CDCR staff and medical personnel to the hanging death of inmate David Scott Gillian in Pleasant Valley State Prision on October 15.
As California prison officials began looking into the September death of a breathing-impaired inmate who had been pepper-sprayed by a guard, they found themselves facing unusual interference and oversight from above, according to documents from an internal corrections investigation obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
A corrections psychologist whose duties included a review of the Sept. 7 death of 35-year-old Joseph Duran complained she was told to delete information she had obtained about the death and, in one instance, to remove a reference to the use of pepper spray, according to transcripts of interviews conducted in recent weeks by internal affairs investigators with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The transcripts, labeled confidential because they are part of an internal affairs probe, show that at least three prison guards are under investigation for “dishonesty” in connection with Duran’s death, including the officer who pepper-sprayed Duran on Sept. 6.
More than four years after a panel of federal judges ordered California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of capacity, the judges Monday granted the state two more years to get there, but said no further delays will be allowed.
The order issued by the three-judge court overseeing the prison overcrowding case gives California until Feb. 28, 2016, to get to the required level and mandates the appointment of a “compliance officer” to ensure that the state meets certain benchmarks along the way. The judges also ordered that the state not increase the number of out-of-state inmates – currently at 8,900 prisoners – to meet the order.
The extension is a major victory for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been arguing that the state has done enough to relieve overcrowding and has insisted he will not allow a wholesale release of inmates to get to the levels ordered by the judicial panel.
The three judges, in an order issued Monday morning, acknowledged that they were “reluctant” to grant an extension of an order originally issued in August 2009.
But they added that promises from the state not to appeal the case further will help achieve the “durable solution” to overcrowding that has harmed the state’s ability to provide proper medical and mental health care to inmates.
“This should bring to an end defendants’ continual appeals and requests for modifications of this Court’s orders,” the judges wrote.
The three-judge court consists of Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circiut Court of Appeals, Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California and Lawrence K. Karlton of the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California.
With the parents of dead inmate Joseph Duran looking on, a federal judge Thursday agreed to reopen the explosive issue of whether California prison officials use excessive force – including pepper spray – against mentally ill inmates.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton’s decision came on the heels of the state’s disclosure that it has launched “disciplinary” investigations into the death of Duran, a 35-year-old mentally ill inmate who was pepper sprayed in his cell Sept. 6, because he would not let go of the food port in his cell door.
A federal judge in Sacramento on Wednesday ordered a hearing in the case of a mentally ill inmate who died after being pepper-sprayed inside his cell at the Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, and directed California prison officials to ensure that none of the documents concerning the death are destroyed.
The order by U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton follows a Sacramento Bee report this week that raised questions about the circumstances that led to the death of 35-year-old Joseph Duran.
A panel of three federal judges indicated Monday that it expects negotiations aimed at settling California’s prison overcrowding issue to fail and that a final order in the long-running matter will come within 30 days.
Conceding that California won't meet a federal court deadline to reduce prison overcrowding, Gov. Jerry Brown is moving ahead with plans to expand parole programs to include the frail, mentally impaired and elderly, while seeking to fund another wave of jail expansion, according to his proposed budget.
Brown also wants to immediately change state policy to allow some jailed felons to further shorten their sentences.
The moves are announced in his 2014-15 budget plan, due to be released Thursday but leaked to reporters Wednesday evening and verified by a source close to the budget process.
Under the new program, prisoners over 60 years old who have served at least 25 years would be eligible to be considered for parole. So, too, would inmates who suffer severe medical conditions or who are mentally impaired.
Brown's budget says inmates serving doubled sentences under the state's Three Strikes law, but whose second offense was not violent, will now be able to shave off a third of their time. Previously, they were limited by law to a 20% reduction.
Brown uses his spending plan to also announce support for split sentences, requiring judges to reduce local jail terms for felons but adding time for community probation. Judges would be able to sentence a felon to jail alone only if they identified a reason. Brown's budget document says the change will help offenders get access to community services while helping jails reduce crowding.
Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.
U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state's deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.
A federal judge in Sacramento ordered state prison officials Tuesday to continue working to improve treatment for seriously mentally ill inmates on San Quentin’s death row, but did not give inmates’ attorneys sweeping changes in the care of their clients.
In a 28-page order, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton told state prison officials to work with the court-appointed special master overseeing mental health care in “an assessment of unmet need for inpatient care in the condemned inmate population at San Quentin.”
Karlton also ordered prison officials to consider creating a hospital unit for condemned inmates, at either San Quentin, the California Medical Facility in Vacaville or the newly opened prison hospital in Stockton, but he did not order them to do so.
The judge found that the state still is not meeting Eighth Amendment requirements for adequate treatment of seriously mentally ill inmates. He noted that some improvements have been made, but that there is no simple answer to the problem.
An expert on conditions of confinement testified this week that mental illnesses of inmates in California’s prisons are allowed to worsen for months – and sometimes years – in segregated isolation, while their plight makes it easier to manage them.
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The testimony came over three days at the outset of an evidentiary hearing in Sacramento federal court on claims by inmates’ attorneys that the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a practice of isolating mentally sick inmates, even though it inevitably makes them sicker.
At one point, U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton interrupted the direct examination of Dr. Craig Haney, and asked if he feels the judge should issue an order that would, for the most part, exclude mentally ill inmates from segregation units.
“That is my strongly held view,” Haney replied. “Before a mentally ill patient is placed in segregation, he should be carefully screened to make sure he absolutely has to be there. And, appropriate treatment should not, under any circumstances, be interrupted, as it is now.”