Grant approved for public defender’s office aids inmate conviction review

Tulare County Public Defenders’ office received approval for a grant agreement that will help fund conviction reviews due to several changes to California law

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Board of Supervisors approved a grant agreement on Tuesday to help fund the public defenders’ office conviction review in light of several changes to California law. 

This is a non competitive grant by the California Board of State and Community Corrections, retroactive from March 1, 2022 to March 1, 2025, according to public defender Erin Brooks. The total worth of the grant is $523,647.45 and is limited to only four kinds of post-conviction cases.

Public defender Erin Brooks presented the grant at the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 12. She explained that this grant is to help with public defender cases only and limited to four types of specific cases involving felonies.The funds received by the grant will go toward hiring four positions to help with the caseload brought with each of these penal codes. The Public defender department is requesting a budget adjustment for the remainder of this fiscal year to increase expense revenue by $184,551 to be used toward these cases. The remaining $369,096 will be budgeted through the 2022-23 fiscal year.  

Resentencing Statute
Brooks explained penal code 1170(d) refers to the resentencing statute that comes from recommendations from either the parole board, the county administrator, the court, or the District Attorney’s office. “The court may consider post conviction factors including but not limited to the inmates disciplinary record, the record of rehabilitation, and if anything shows that this particular inmate’s risk of violence has been reduced during the time that they’ve spent in prison,” Brooks said.  

In the past, in these resentencing cases, inmates were not always appointed counsel until there was a recent change in the law. It is now required that inmates be appointed counsel for these resentencing hearings. Brooks explained that they do not have a clear number of the amount of cases that will have to be retried. She does expect to see an increase, “because of the change in the law that requires counsel be appointed, we do expect to see a lot more of these cases, absorbed by our offices,” Brooks said. The increase in cases is where the need for additional help comes into play.

 Relief from murder, attempted murder or manslaughter charges
Penal Code 1170.95 refers to those individuals who were convicted of felony murder, attempted murder or manslaughter under a natural or probable consequences doctrine or other implied malice theory according to Brooks. This would be someone who was the get-away driver or an accomplice, not the actual shooter, “They didn’t act with reckless disregard for human life nor a major participant in the underlying felony could be entitled to relief from the murder charge attempted murder charge or manslaughter charge,” Brooks said. 

This change came about because of Senate Bill 1437. This bill prohibits an individual who was not the major participant to be convicted of the underlying felony according to legislature.ca.gov. Brooks expects there to be several of these cases despite the fact they have not been closely tracking them. After receiving this grant, the public defender’s office has changed their case management system to be able to track all these cases because for grant purposes the numbers are required to be reported. 

Under this penal code, counsel is now required for these defendants as well. Brooks sees this set of cases to be the most intensive of the four. “We have to see if the person qualifies under this code section,” Brooks said. “It’s a lot of document review, reviewing the records, reviewing transcripts, reviewing police reports and filing motions, things like that… this could go back decades.”

Motion to vacate conviction
Penal code 1437.7 has a few tiers to it. Brooks explained that someone who is no longer imprisoned may file a motion to vacate a conviction under separate circumstances. One circumstance is if there was prejudicial error where the defendant was not advised fully of their immigration consequences.

Immigration law is quite confusing according to Brooks and as a result there are several cases that fall under this category going back several years as well. “A lot of these cases are coming back where a person is facing deportation proceedings, and the immigration lawyers or other lawyers are filing these motions to vacate the sentences because of the inadequate immigration advice that was given,” Brooks said. 

Brooks told the board there are some who think the reevaluation of these cases would be “alleging ineffective assistance of counsel in our office” when that is not the intent. Brooks simply thinks it is important for their clients to have the necessary “relief.”

Also under this code section is an individual who has new evidence of actual innocence who files a petition or if “a conviction or sentence was sought or obtained on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin…essentially illegal conviction,” Brooks said. Brooks said that she has not seen either of these options, so there is not yet a way to determine how many of these cases will come forward. 

Parole suitability for youth offenders
The last penal code discussed at the meeting is penal code section 3051, called the “youth offender parole hearings, also called Franklin hearings,” according to Brooks. This code is clarifying when youth offenders are eligible for parole, it does not mean they are going to get parole, but it clarifies their eligibility. 

If the defendant was 25 years or younger, and received a sentence of less than 25 years, they would be eligible for parole after serving  20 years. If the under 25-year-old  defendant received a sentence of 25 years to life, they are eligible for parole after serving 25 years. If the defendant was under 18-years-old and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, they will be eligible for parole at 25-years-old.

Brooks said that this code is in accordance with past and present cases. The public defenders will have to go in and  gather information in relation to each inmate under these qualifying terms. “Information regarding the defendant, especially at the time with the condition of the crime, interview family, friends, faith leaders, representatives from community based organizations, get medical records, school records, juvenile hall records, see if there’s any trauma or mental health issues, etc. So it’s kind of a mini mitigation packet,” Brooks said.

Once these packets are complete, they are submitted to the courts who then passes it onto the parole board. Brooks brought up the fact that there are older cases that would need to be researched to the best of their ability to gather as much information from the time when the crime was committed. This process will require the most “boots on the ground” within the investigation of these crimes because Brooks said there are quite a few of these cases as well. 

Unfortunately, Brooks said “this grant lends itself to being personnel heavy and it’s so limited to the types of cases that we can use this money for.” She explained that even though the use is so limited, it won’t be an issue because the real need with this investigative heavy work, is within personnel. According to the staff report, the plan is to hire a full-time paralegal, social worker, investigator and an extra help attorney to handle these cases exclusively.

These additional positions are not going to be long term unless otherwise stated. They will be under the direction of a supervising attorney who is already allocated to the public defender department.

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