Sacramento, CA – The California Supreme Court has rejected 10 clemency applications approved by Governor Jerry Brown in his final weeks in office.
It was the first time in nearly 90 years that the court had exercised its power to block a governor’s commutation or pardon requests, The Sacramento Bee reported.
The court has previously noted that it has the power to deny such requests in cases of an “abuse of power,” according to The Associated Press.
The justices do not plan to provide any justification or clarification for their decision, a court representative said.
Brown previously served as governor from 1975 until 1983. He granted 404 pardons and one commutation during that time, The Sacramento Bee reported.
In his last two terms, he granted a staggering 1,332 pardons and 283 commutations – more than any other California governor, according to The Associated Press.
Nine out of the 10 inmates whose requests for commutation were rejected by the court are serving time for their various roles in homicide cases, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“It was like a ton of bricks crushed me,” 47-year-old inmate Joe Hernandez lamented when he learned his commutation request had been denied. “I didn’t know what to say. This was our first real hope after 25 years.”
Hernandez was sentenced to life sentence without the possibility of parole – plus 46 years to life – for killing a rival gang member and later shooting two other men he thought were rival gang members.
Only one of the men survived the attack.
The convicted killer said he believes he was a “political casualty” of the Supreme Court.
Another commutation request denied by the court was that of 40-year-old Jameel Coles, who beat, suffocated, and burned the body of a man who had stopped to give him and his friends a ride in 1997.
Coles was sentenced to life in prison for the murder.
Brown also recommended that Borey Ai be pardoned for murdering a liquor store owner when he was 14, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Ai was paroled in 2016, but was also a Cambodian refugee and faced deportation due to his conviction.
Brown backed him. The Supreme Court did not.
Appellate lawyer David Ettinger said he was unable to determine why the court had rejected the 10 requests but approved so many others, The Sacramento Bee reported.
“There’s really no guidance for future courts, for future clemency requests, for future governors making requests, as to why certain ones might get blocked and certain ones won’t,” Ettinger told the paper. “It is a problem for future courts and future governors, how to apply this general ‘abuse of power’ standard to specific cases.”
Brown complained that he didn’t understand why the court would deny his requests, either.
“Read the ones who were approved and read the ones who were disapproved and you tell me what the rule is,” he told The Sacramento Bee just before he left office in January.
His successor, Governor Gavin Newsom, said that Brown has stressed the importance of the commutation process with regards to fighting back against measures intended to be tough on crime.
“The governor looks at dozens of those every single week,” Newsom said of the commutation applications. “There’s a binder. Quite literally, every time I see him, he shows me the binder and he says, ‘This is one of the most important jobs that you will have.’”
Brown also sealed the commutation files, and argued that they contain information that is “too sensitive” for the public, The Sacramento Bee reported.
Brown’s office asserted that the process a governor uses when deliberating an application should also be protected.
“The thing about governors and clemency is it’s a very powerful tool that does not have a lot of checks on it,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told The Sacramento Bee.