SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- A judge ruled Wednesday that Secretary of State Debra Bowen erred by deciding that tens of thousands of criminals who are serving sentences under community supervision are ineligible to vote.
The ruling stemmed from the state's three-year-old criminal justice realignment law, which is reducing overcrowding in state prisons by sentencing people convicted of less serious crimes to county jails or alternative treatment programs.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued on behalf of nearly 60,000 convicts who previously would have been ineligible to vote because they were on state parole.
Under realignment, however, they are now sentenced either to mandatory supervision or post-release community supervision. Bowen's legal analysis said that was “functionally equivalent” to parole.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo disagreed.
“The court finds the secretary's `functional equivalency' analysis unsound and lacking legal support,” Grillo said in the ruling.
Grillo said three of the state's appellate courts recently ruled in unrelated cases that community supervision is not parole. The Legislature has been silent on the issue.
Bowen's office did not return repeated telephone and email messages seeking comment.
Michael Risher, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement that the ruling was a victory for democracy.
The judge agreed with the plaintiffs that part of the goal of the realignment law was to encourage rehabilitation, and that participating in society by voting is a reasonable part of that effort.
He also agreed that Bowen issued her policy without going through proper legal procedures.