The Supreme Court today acted on five more clemency recommendation requests submitted by Governor Jerry Brown. All concern inmates serving life-without-parole sentences for murder. The court recommended clemency for two of them, but blocked it for the other three. Recommendations are constitutional prerequisites to the Governor granting pardons or sentence commutations for twice-convicted felons.
The recommendation denials bring to 10 the number of intended clemency grants the court has blocked in the last 30 days, actions that imply findings of abuses of power by the Governor. (See here, here, and here.) They are apparently the first rejections in almost 90 years.
The court has not stated any reasons for its recent actions. Thus, as the Los Angeles Times said in an editorial even before today’s five decisions, “the court failed to explain why pardoning one convicted murderer would be an abuse and pardoning another would not.” (Actually, most involved sentence commutations, not pardons, for murderers, but the main point is well taken.)
Just last week, the court began noting some dissenting votes in the letters to the Governor that report the court’s recommendation request actions. In all five of today’s actions, one or two justices opted to put their disagreements on record.
Today’s clemency recommendations actions — under a deferential standard of review — were for:
- Jameel Coles: blocking commutation of an LWOP sentence for murder, carjacking, robbery, and kidnapping for robbery. Justice Goodwin Liu noted a vote to approve the commutation.
- Crystal Jones: recommending commutation of an LWOP sentence for murder with special circumstance plus one year for a deadly weapon enhancement. Justices Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan noted votes to block the commutation.
- Thomas Marston: blocking commutation of an LWOP sentence for two counts of first degree murder. Justice Liu noted a vote to approve the commutation.
- Richard Flowers: recommending commutation of an LWOP sentence for first degree murder. Justices Chin and Corrigan noted votes to block the commutation.
- Elaine Wong: blocking commutation of an LWOP sentence plus 15 years for murder, two counts of attempted murder, assault with intent to commit murder, two counts of robbery, and firearm enhancements. Justice Liu noted a vote to approve the commutation.
[Update: Here are the court’s letters to the Governor for the five.]
[March 29, 2020 update: It took a while, but Flowers’s sentence was commuted on March 27, 2020, by Brown’s successor Governor Gavin Newsom, along with 25 other clemency grants.]