The Supreme Court today approved Governor Gavin Newsom’s request for recommendations to commute the life without parole sentences of Tyson Atlas and Martin Loftis. The recommendations are constitutionally required before a governor can grant clemency to anyone who has been “twice convicted of a felony.”

Newsom has said he expects the commutations to allow not necessarily for freedom, but for parole eligibility hearings, or, in Atlas’s case, an earlier parole hearing because he was a minor when he committed murder and he is thus already statutorily entitled to a hearing “during [his] 25th year of incarceration” (Pen. Code, § 3051, subd. (b)(4)). (Related:  “Newsom grants clemency, but freedom isn’t certain”.)

The Governor’s Atlas recommendation request drew opposition from the San Bernardino District Attorney’s office, which asked the court for permission to brief and argue the matter. The court denied the district attorney’s motion (see here), but the court did have before it an objection and a supplemental objection that the district attorney had lodged with Newsom.

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 53 of his other requests. 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.

There are eight other clemency recommendation requests pending, including requests for permission to commute three more life without parole sentences.


Court allows clemency for one, returns files to be redacted for four others

District Attorneys might weigh in on Governor’s latest clemency requests; they criticize him for sealing records