In response to a motion to unseal, the Supreme Court today returned to Governor Gavin Newsom the file he submitted in support of his request for a recommendation to commute James Ratliff’s 1987 sentence of life without parole plus 13 years and four months for first degree murder, attempted murder, and burglary with a sentence enhancement. Newsom has 30 days to return the record with a showing why some of the record should remain confidential.

Under the state constitution, at least four Supreme Court justices must recommend clemency before the Governor can pardon, or commute the sentence of, someone who, like Ratliff, has been “twice convicted of a felony.”

If the court follows what has now become standard procedure, a redacted version of the Ratliff record will likely be made available to the public. Under that procedure, however, a clemency file remains entirely confidential unless a third party moves to unseal.

The Ratliff recommendation request, along with five others, was made a month ago. No motion to unseal has been made in the other five.

The motion to unseal was made by the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization that says “[i]ts purpose is to assure that people guilty of committing crimes receive swift and certain punishment in an orderly and constitutional manner.” I believe that this is the Foundation’s first motion in a clemency matter and that prior motions to unseal were made by the First Amendment Coalition, which is “dedicated to advancing free speech, open government and public participation in civic affairs.”


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