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California Habeas Corpus Grant that Excluded “Show Cause Order” Reversed for Procedural Inadequacy

The State of California appealed a 2006 court order directing the Board of Prison Terms (Board) to reduce a prisoner's sentence and adjust her release date according to pre amended statutory sentencing provisions. The court order was reversed for procedural inadequacy in that it did not include an order to show cause.

Sara Jane Olson, a.k.a. Kathleen Soliah, joined the Symbionese Liberation Army, an urban guerrilla group, and was involved in various armed actions in the 1970s. She fled after she was indicted, and for 20 plus years lived a crime-free life as a fugitive. She was apprehended in 1999 and sentenced in 2001 to two consecutive 10 year-to-life terms for planting explosive devices under police cars which did not explode. She was also sentenced to a plea bargained determinate six year sentence for second degree murder in connection with a 1975 bank robbery, to be served consecutive to the 2001 sentences.

The Board, pursuant to California Penal Code § 1170.2(b), converted her sentence to 5 years and four months, but pursuant to a 1978 amendment determined she was a "serious offender" and extended the sentence to 14 years. Olson filed for, and was granted, a writ of habeas corpus by the Sacramento County Superior Court, which applied 1976 and 1977 statutory provisions and ordered the Board to reduce her sentence. After a reduction of only one year, she obtained another writ of habeas corpus and the court ordered another sentence reduction plus the calculation of her release date according to pre 1977 statutory guidelines. The state appealed.

The Court of Appeal, Second District, reversed the lower court’s order, holding that the superior court had erred in not issuing an order to show cause (a statutory requirement), and that no requisite waiver had been obtained. The appellate court remanded the case to conform to proper procedures. See: In re Olson, 149 Cal.App.4th 790, 57 Cal.Rptr.3d 284 (Cal.App. 2 Dist., 2007).

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Related legal case

In re Olson