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Name: In re Van Houten (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 1
Case #: B320098
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 05/30/2023

Governor’s decision reversing grant of parole was not supported by “some evidence” of current dangerousness. Van Houten is serving concurrent sentences of seven years to life for two 1969 murders committed with other members of a cult led by Charles Manson. In 2020, the Board of Parole Hearings granted her parole for the fourth time. The Governor reversed the decision, finding (1) that her explanation of how she fell under Manson’s influence and engaged in her life crimes was inadequate; (2) that recent statements she made were inconsistent with statements she made at the time of the killings, indicating gaps in her insight and/or candor; and (3) that although her most recent criminal risk assessment found her at low risk for violent recidivism, several “historical factors” remained salient to her current dangerousness, including her prior acts of violence, traumatic experiences, and substance abuse. Van Houten petitioned for habeas relief. Held: Petition granted. Here, the Governor’s conclusions were not supported by even a modicum of evidence. Van Houten provided extensive explanation as to the causative factors leading to her involvement with Manson and the commission of the murders, and the records do not support a conclusion that there are hidden factors for which she failed to account. Further, the Governor’s finding of inconsistencies between Van Houten’s statements now and at the time of the murders fails to account for decades of therapy, self-help programming, and reflection she has undergone in the past 50 years. Finally, the historical factors identified in the criminal risk assessment are the sort of immutable circumstances that the California Supreme Court has held cannot support a finding of current dangerousness when there is extensive evidence of rehabilitation and other strong indicators of parole suitability, all of which Van Houten has demonstrated. [Editor’s Note: Presiding Justice Rothschild dissented and would have found that Van Houten’s lack of insight into the commitment offense, coupled with the heinous nature of the crime, provided some evidence of current dangerousness.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: