The Supreme Court today signed off on one of five Governor Gavin Newsom requests to commute sentences and sent the others back to Newsom for resubmission before a likely partial opening to the public of the four files. The state constitution requires a governor to get an affirmative court recommendation before granting clemency to anyone who, like all five, have been “twice convicted of a felony.”

Newsom has permission to commute the sentence of Raul Chavez, who is serving a term — imposed in 2007 — of 35 years and eight months for burglary and attempted robbery with sentence enhancements. In her letter to the court seeking the permission, the Governor’s Deputy Legal Affairs Secretary Eliza Hersh said “[t]he Governor is contemplating a commutation of sentence that would make Mr. Chavez eligible for an earlier parole suitability hearing.” (Related: “Newsom grants clemency, but freedom isn’t certain”.)

The court has said it reviews clemency recommendation requests under a deferential standard. (See here and here.) And Newsom has a nearly perfect record — he withdrew one request before a ruling, but the court has now approved 51 of his other requests and denied none. That’s better than former Governor Jerry Brown, who had the court without explanation block 10 intended clemency grants. The denial of a request implies that a clemency grant would be an abuse of power.

The court didn’t rule on four other clemency recommendation requests that were submitted at the same time as the one for Chavez. Instead, it is returning the four records to the Governor with directions to resubmit them by April 17 with proposed redactions. After that is done, the court will likely make redacted portions of the records public and rule on the recommendation requests.

The return of the records follows motions by San Bernardino’s District Attorney and by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County. According to a now-standard procedure, a clemency file remains completely closed unless a third party timely moves to unseal it. Only if a motion is made does the court require the Governor to justify keeping parts of the file confidential. The court then typically allows public access to only a redacted record the Governor submits. (See herehere, and here.) The Chavez record will remain sealed because no one filed a motion to unseal it.

The prosecutors made their motions as preludes to possibly telling the court what they think of those clemency recommendation requests. Unlike Chavez, the four for whom Newsom proposes commutations — Carlos Cano, Gregory Sanders, Marin Loftis, and Tyson Atlas — are all murderers serving life without parole sentences. As with Chavez, however, the commutations wouldn’t free the four, but just make them eligible for parole hearings.