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 The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated.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.
Here's the Sacramento Bee and LA Times coverage of yesterday's Coleman v. Brown evidentiary hearing on the adequacy of mental health care in California prisons. It continues today in Judge Karlton's courtroom starting at 9:30 a.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's appeal in the state's prison overcrowding case, leaving California under federal court order to reduce its prison population by nearly 8,000 inmates by Jan. 27.
The court's action, in which it dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, leaves intact an order by a panel of three federal judges that the state's prison population be cut to 137.5 percent of capacity by early next year.
Here's more Sacramento Bee coverage of the Coleman v. Brown evidentiary hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday. See also LA Times, 10/1/13; AP, 10/1/13. Three "pepper spray" videos have been played in court so far. The hearing continues before Judge Karlton on October 16.
Here's the Sacramento Bee's mid-day piece on this morning's Brown v. Coleman evidentiary hearing. The hearing continued this afternoon and starts up again tomorrow at 9:15 a.m.
Attorneys for thousands of mentally ill inmates in California prisons asked a federal judge today to stop the state from what they described as egregious tactics using massive amounts of pepper spray, batons and other force they likened to torture.
In a high-stakes bid to dramatically alter how mentally ill inmates are treated, the attorneys asked that U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton order the opening of a psychiatric facility at San Quentin’s Death Row for condemned inmates who currently have little access to acute mental health care.
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At issue in the hearing that began this morning is how inmates with mental illness – advocates estimate that 30 percent of the state’s 133,000 adult inmates suffer from such illness – are treated inside the state’s 34 adult prisons. Inmate advocates contend that the first response to even relatively minor instances of perceived misconduct is the use of force by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The attorneys say they will present evidence – including 17 videos provided them by CDCR – showing use of force against inmates in their cells that includes the use of massive quantities of pepper spray. Inmates can be subjected to such force for rules violations, refusal to take medication, acting out or other incidents, the attorneys contend. Offenders then are written up for rules violations that can result in hundreds of days of good-behavior credit being revoked, prolonging their incarceration.
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Karlton agreed to allow the videos to be played in open court but ordered that copies not be released to the media. He also ordered that any names of inmates or prison guards that are contained in the videos be stricken from the record, rejecting a bid by an attorney from the Los Angeles Times to allow publication of names presented in court, inadvertently or otherwise.
“I do not believe that the Times or anyone else has the right to use those names, and I’ll see you in contempt,” the judge said.
The inmate attorneys say the videos are a major component of their case and will show indiscriminate use of force to subdue or move inmates. They told Karlton they planned to show as many of the 17 as he will allow.
“These are graphic videos we are going to show that will demonstrate the abuse of force against mentally ill individuals,” Bornstein said.
"A federal court judge has decided that videos showing California prison guards dousing mentally ill prisoners with pepper spray can be shown in open court, an attorney representing inmates said Wednesday." CBS Los Angeles, 9/25/13
Facing a federal court order to cut its inmate population by about 8,500 inmates by the end of the year, California officials asked a federal court panel late Monday to grant a three-year extension to ensure that mass inmate releases do not occur.
A panel of three federal judges had ordered the state to submit detailed plans by Monday on how it would cut the population in its 34 adult prisons to 137.5 percent of capacity by the end of the year.
But Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration instead asked for the postponement, noting that legislation he signed last week, Senate Bill 105, is designed to ease California’s overcrowding crisis without the need to release inmates early.
California would get three more years to reduce its prison population to court-mandated levels while counties would get $200 million a year to expand drug treatment and mental health care for criminal offenders under a proposal Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg unveiled today that calls for settling a long-standing lawsuit against the state over its crowded prisons.
Steinberg presented the plan a day after Gov. Jerry Brown introduced legislation that calls for spending $315 million on additional prison beds to meet a federal court order to reduce crowding in the state's prisons by the end of this year. Brown's plan has the support of Republican leaders in the Legislature, Sen. Bob Huff and Assemblywoman Connie Conway, as well as Democratic Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.
But Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, is advancing a counter proposal that seeks to address the problem of crowded prisons without paying for more prison space or the early release of inmates. More than a dozen Democratic state senators stood behind Steinberg as he presented his plan to the media this morning, including a spectrum of liberal and moderate Democrats.
Gov. Jerry Brown and top lawmakers pledged Tuesday to ease prison crowding without releasing inmates early, laying out a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for alternate housing.
The proposal, which has divided Democratic leaders, would pay for enough beds in privately owned prisons and other facilities to shed more than 9,600 inmates from state lockups by the end of the year, as federal judges have ordered.
"This is the sensible, prudent way to proceed," Brown said at a Capitol news conference. "The plan is to find as many cells as needed."
Paying for the extra housing would drain $315 million from the state's $1.1-billion reserve over the next year. The price tag is expected to increase to $415 million for each of the following two years.
The proposal would avoid inmate releases while Brown continues fighting the order to reduce the population in state prisons, which the judges say are unconstitutionally crowded.
The Supreme Court, over three Justices’ dissents, on Friday afternoon refused to delay a lower court order requiring California state prisons to release nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of this year, to relieve overcrowding. In an order containing no explanation, the Court majority denied state officials’ plea to keep the release order on hold until it could be challenged on appeal. The Supreme Court’s ruling did not even mention state officials’ plea to grant full-scale review of the order.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a bitterly worded dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, called the three-judge District Court’s release mandate a “terrible injunction” that will have the grave consequence of releasing many dangerous prisoners. Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., noted simply that he would grant a postponement.
Sunday's New York Times has a piece entitled "California Is Facing More Woes In Prisons," containing this excerpt:
In a ruling on Thursday calling for an investigation of prison-based mental health facilities, a federal judge cited the “denial of basic necessities, including clean underwear,” along with doctor shortages and treatment delays. And in a footnote, the judge, Lawrence K. Karlton, chided the state for arguing for an end to federal oversight.
“Given the gravity of the evidence in this hearing,” Judge Karlton wrote in the footnote, a motion to terminate the case “takes on the character of a condition in which the defendants have simply divorced themselves from reality.”