BERNARD BENFORD has a lot to do with the fate of his client.
The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down part of a California law that requires a convicted felon to serve time in a halfway house before being eligible for release.
The law, which took effect in November, was the first federal law aimed at helping felons and people with mental illnesses stay in prison.
The case will have an immediate impact on tens of thousands of people who had their rights protected under the law, said Robert Daugaard, a partner at law firm Daugard & Co.
In the court’s opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia said that the law “deprives defendants of the rights to liberty guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
“This is a sweeping attack on the rights of all persons to liberty and equal protection under the laws,” Scalia wrote.
The ruling came in a case brought by a group of former inmates who sued to stop the state from denying them their constitutional rights to a halfway home.
The court did not address the merits of the case, which was filed after a U.N. special rapporteur found that California’s law amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
A lawyer for the state said the ruling will not impact the court.
But it could have an impact on others who have had their cases dismissed because of their felony convictions.
“There are cases in which the state has not decided whether or not to vacate the conviction or whether or no, but has simply decided to dismiss the case,” said Paul Hochstein, a University of California, Irvine law professor who specializes in criminal justice.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called the ruling “an important victory for our people who have been wrongly convicted of serious crimes and deserve our respect.”
“Today’s ruling ensures that defendants will be treated fairly in court and that California will protect their fundamental constitutional rights, and our state will do the same for others who deserve our support and our assistance,” Becerras office said in a statement.
The judge in the case was William Orrick, a former U.C.L.A. law professor.
He was appointed by President Donald Trump and has been a federal appeals court judge since 2010.
Orrick had previously ruled that California should not have required a convicted criminal to be placed in a place that requires the person to remain locked up for two years.
But the appeals court said Orrick had “wrongly concluded” that the statute violated the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality.
The appeals court also said that Orrick should have recognized that the Supreme Court has said the law’s purpose was to protect people with serious mental illness and not to treat people with a criminal record as criminals.
The U.K.-based criminal justice reform group, Sentencing Reform, said Orick’s ruling would “reinforce the need for the United States to treat all people who are in jail as criminals, regardless of whether they have a criminal history.”
In an opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court said the state “is justified in continuing to punish people with felony convictions” under the statute.
The state should not, Ginsburg wrote, be allowed to impose “further burdens on the ability of those who have already been convicted to exercise their fundamental right to a fair trial.”
Ginsburg, in her dissent, said the California law was an unconstitutional “delegitimization of those with a record of violence or criminal behavior” and should be invalidated.
She also said the statute “contributes to the degrading of people of color” and “lacks a rational basis for the classification of felons as criminals.”
The U-K.-funded group, which represents thousands of inmates, has said that California has the strictest mandatory minimums in the country.
California’s laws were upheld by the 4th U.U.S., 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.