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Federal judge rules two California laws unconstitutional

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of California [official website] ruled Friday that two state laws are unconstitutional because they alter the sentences of crimes that were committed before the laws came into effect. Marsy's Law [text], otherwise known as the "Victims' Bill of Rights," was passed in 2008, mandating that inmates serve longer periods of time between parole hearings. Meanwhile, Proposition 89 [text], entitled the "Governor's Parole Review," was passed in 1988 to allow the governor to reverse approved paroles in murder cases. In deeming both laws unconstitutional, the judge said that it was an abuse of power to require longer sentences than those in place when the prisoners actually committed the crimes.

This is the most recent case in a changing environment of sentencing guidelines. Last month New York announced plans to reform sentencing [JURIST report] in a way that would reduce the use of solitary confinement [JURIST news archive] and ban solitary confinement for prisoners under 18 years old. In January the US Supreme Court relaxed sentencing guidelines [JURIST report] for drug dealers. In October three companies behind private juvenile detention and treatment facilities involved in a northeastern Pennsylvania juvenile justice scandal [JURIST news archive] settled [JURIST report] a civil lawsuit for $2.5 million. In June the US Supreme Court limited the way sentencing courts can use prior convictions to enhance sentencing [JURIST report] for federal crimes.

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