The Supreme Court today made rulings in two clemency matters. The state constitution requires that a governor get an affirmative court recommendation before granting clemency to anyone who has been “twice convicted of a felony.”
In one matter, the court cleared the way for Governor Gavin Newsom to commute Richard Mahorney’s 2007 sentence of 40 years to life for robbery as a third strike with sentence enhancements. The commutation would make Mahorney eligible for an earlier parole suitability hearing.
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 approved all 46 of his other requests. That’s better than former Governor Jerry Brown, who had the court without explanation block 10 intended clemency grants.
In another matter, the court granted Newsom’s request to make public only a redacted version of the file he submitted in support of the request for a recommendation allowing him 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. The commutation would make Ratliff eligible for a parole suitability hearing.
The Ratliff file was handled according to a now-standard procedure. A 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 rules as it did today, allowing public access to only a redacted file the Governor submits. (See here and here.)
Newsom submitted recommendation requests for both Mahorney and Ratliff in February. The court has yet to decide whether to recommend clemency for Ratliff. No motion was made to unseal the Mahorney file, so it will probably remain confidential.