California Dept. of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 9 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 499 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

Respondent insists that the California amendment before us is indistinguishable from the legislation at issue in Lindsey, Weaver, and Miller, and he contends that those cases control this one. We disagree. Both before and after the 1981 amendment, California punished the offense of second-degree murder with an indeterminate sentence of "confinement in the state prison for a term of 15 years to life." Cal. Penal Code Ann. 190 (West 1982). The amendment also left unchanged the substantive formula for securing any reductions to this sentencing range. Thus, although 15 years was the formal "minimum" term of confinement, see ibid., respondent was able to secure a one-third "credit" or reduction in this minimum by complying with prison rules and regulations, see 2931. The amendment had no effect on the standards for fixing a prisoner's initial date of "eligibility" for parole, see In re Jackson, 39 Cal. 3d 464, 476, 703 P. 2d 100, 108 (1985), or for determining his "suitability" for parole and setting his release date, see Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041, 3041.5 (West 1982).

The 1981 amendment made only one change: It introduced the possibility that after the initial parole hearing, the Board would not have to hold another hearing the very next year, or the year after that, if it found no reasonable probability that respondent would be deemed suitable for parole in the interim period. 3041.5(b)(2). In contrast to the laws at issue in Lindsey, Weaver, and Miller (which had the purpose and effect of enhancing the range of available prison terms, see Miller, supra, at 433-434), the evident focus of the California amendment was merely " 'to relieve the [Board] from the costly and time-consuming responsibility of scheduling parole hearings' " for prisoners who have no reasonable chance of being released. In re Jackson, supra, at 473, 703 P. 2d, at 106 (quoting legislative history). Rather than

tage of provisions for early release," see post, at 518, but on whether any such change alters the definition of criminal conduct or increases the penalty by which a crime is punishable.


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