CRIME STORY has received permission to re-print Michael Romano‘s newsletters from Stanford Law School’s Three Strikes Project whose mission is to reverse the most unjust criminal sentences. Romano and his colleague Susan Champion were interviewed by Amanda Knox for CRIME STORY and you can find the podcast and the transcript of that interview here. You can find a story about Romano’s participation in a U.S. Congressional field hearing on criminal justice reform here.
We are very happy to announce a major victory in the California Court of Appeals on behalf of our client, Gene McCallum, who was sentenced to life under the Three Strikes law for breaking into an empty hotel room and stealing two dollars in loose change.
This is an important victory for Gene and many other people in California’s prisons who have demonstrated personal growth and genuine rehabilitation. At the time of his arrest, police reported that Gene was “kind of spacey” and “mentally ill.” He said he broke into the room to use the bathroom. Since his incarceration 15 years ago, Gene’s record of transformation has been so exceptional that he was recommended for early release by all levels of prison authorities, and his case was sent back to the trial court for reconsideration of his sentence.
The Los Angeles Superior Court immediately denied the prison officials’ re-sentencing request, without giving parties notice, any opportunity to be heard, and without hearing evidence concerning Gene’s rehabilitation or the re-sentencing referral, which was personally issued by the Secretary of the Department of Corrections. Yesterday, the Court of Appeal’s decision reversing the lower court for abuse of discretion became final. The Court of Appeal ruled that trial courts must consider the re-sentencing requests issued by prison authorities more seriously and at least allow Gene and others like him to present evidence of their rehabilitation.
The decision gives new life to an initiative launched in 2018 by then-governor Jerry Brown to identify people in prison with records of exceptionally “meritorious conduct.” In order to qualify, prisoners are identified and screened through multiple layers of prison officials, up to the department Secretary, who must agree that continued incarceration is “no longer in the public interest.” Despite great pains by prison authorities to identify people who deserve to be freed from custody, many courts have refused to even consider the re-sentencing referrals. As of last week, prison authorities have issued re-sentencing requests on behalf of 184 people for exceptionally meritorious rehabilitation. 50 have been granted. We represented 40 of them.
Project staff attorney Milena Blake leads our efforts under this “second look” sentencing program and brilliantly argued Gene’s case before the Court of Appeals in September. The decision will give greater weight to the recommendations of prison authorities who recognize genuine transformation, incentivize and reward rehabilitation, and allow Gene and all others like him to fully present their cases in court.
We will now return with Gene to the trial court in Los Angeles, where we will explain why prison authorities recommended his release and offer evidence of his outstanding record of personal growth, rehabilitation, programming, and education. We hope the court will reconsider its previous position and agree with the highest officials in the state prison system that he would be “an asset to the community” if released. We will keep you posted.
IN OTHER NEWS:
We are also extremely happy to share news from our client, Keith Tribble, who was freed from a life sentence in August. Keith was able to take a break from his internship as a substance use disorder counselor to visit his family in Florida, including his daughter and grandchildren! He sends along his deep appreciation to everyone receiving this email and wanted to share his good fortune.
We could not be happier for Keith and his family, or prouder of our amazing team of students and staff.
I hope you are all well this holiday season!