At its Wednesday conference yesterday, the Supreme Court rejected one of Governor Brown’s requests for a clemency recommendation.  It did the same with two other requests two weeks ago, which might have been the first rejections in almost 90 years.  A California governor is constitutionally required to get the consent of a majority of the Supreme Court before he or she can pardon or commute the sentence of a twice-convicted felon.

As discussed before, because the court has recently described in detail the deferential standard of review it uses for gubernatorial clemency recommendation requests, a refusal to make a recommendation implies a court finding that a grant of clemency would have been an abuse of the Governor’s power.  However, unlike the court’s last known refusal before this year, when it issued a detailed opinion (In re Billings (1930) 210 Cal. 669), the court has not explained its latest snubs of the Governor.  Also, all the documents the Governor sent to the court in support of a recommendation are sealed from public view, at least until the court rules on a pending motion to unseal them.  Thus, what abuse the court found is subject to conjecture.

Yesterday’s recommendation denial concerned Borey Ai.  Governor Brown wanted to pardon Ai, who was convicted of murder and of robbery with a firearm, crimes he committed when he was 14 and 15 years old, and for which he is on lifetime parole after serving over 19 years in prison until his release two years ago.  It is unusual for the Governor to seek a pardon, rather than a sentence commutation, for such serious crimes.  The reason might be immigration related.  Ai was a four-year-old Cambodian refugee when he was brought to the United States in the mid-1980’s.  After leaving prison, he was initially taken into ICE custody, but was later released pending deportation to Cambodia.  A pardon might prevent the deportation.

[Update:  More about Ai specifically is here.  More generally about Governor Brown pardons for those facing deportation is here and here.]

Despite the three recent refusals, the court has responded favorably to most of Governor Brown’s clemency recommendation requests, including these eight yesterday:

  • Gerald Holton:  to commute a sentence of life without parole for murder, plus 6 years for deadly weapon and prior prison term enhancements.
  • Walter Oatis:  to commute a 33-years-to-life sentence for robbery, attempted robbery, and a prior felony enhancement.
  • Fateem Jackson:  to commute a 36-years-to-life sentence for carjacking.
  • James King:  to commute a 25-years-to-life sentence for second degree robbery plus a 5-year prison term enhancement.
  • Howard James:  to commute an LWOP sentence plus five years for murder.
  • Richard Richardson:  to commute a 47-year sentence for robbery, attempted robbery, and participation in a street gang, with enhancements for a prior violent felony conviction and firearm use.
  • Richard Snyder:  to commute a 35-years-to-life three-strikes sentence for burglary.
  • Johanna Hudnall:  to commute a 34-year sentence for seven counts of burglary, plus defenseless-victim and prior felony enhancements.