September 3, 2008
Students free life-term prisoner
USC Law students argued – and the California Supreme Court agreed – that a life-term prisoner is entitled to be granted parole once the prisoner no longer poses a danger to the community. The Court rejected the Governor’s reversal of the parole commission’s grant of parole based solely on the circumstances of Sandra Davis-Lawrence’s 1971 commitment offense (first-degree murder), holding that the reversal violated her due process rights.
The 4 to 3 ruling provides meaningful judicial review of parole decisions by the Board of Parole Hearings and the Governor, and could affect nearly 1,000 parole cases now on appeal. Lawyers on both sides said it was the first time in recent history that the state’s highest court has ruled in favor of a prisoner in a parole case.
Students in the Post-Conviction Justice Project, under the direction of Profs. Michael Brennan, Carrie Hempel, and Heidi Rummel, have represented Sandra Davis- Lawrence at parole hearings and in the state courts since 2000. USC Law student Lisa Shinar ’07 wrote the petition challenging the Governor’s reversal of Davis-Lawrence’s fourth grant of parole. Christopher Mock ’08 argued the case in the California Court of Appeal. The court granted the petition and ordered her release on parole. The California Supreme Court took the case under review, and Patrick Hagan ’09 and Erin McLendon ’09 took the lead in briefing the case for the Supreme Court.
On August 21, the California Supreme Court ruled for Lawrence, allowing her to remain free after nearly 24 years in prison. [Mark Godsey]
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