SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A suspect arrested outside bars near California’s Capitol in connection with last weekend’s mass shooting is serving less than half of his 10-year sentence because of voter-approved changes in state law the sentence for his crime had lightened convictions and offered the chance for an earlier release.
Smiley Allen Martin was released in February after serving time for hitting a girlfriend, pulling her hair out of her house and flogging her with a belt, according to court and prison records. These are considered nonviolent crimes under California law, which only considers about two dozen crimes to be violent crimes — things like murder, rape, arson, and kidnapping.
Martin, 27, was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of a machine gun. He is among 12 people injured in Sunday’s shooting, which killed six others. Police say the violence was a shootout between rival gangs in which at least five people fired guns, including Martin’s brother Dandrae Martin, who was also arrested.
Smiley Martin would normally have remained behind bars until at least May, having served at least half his time for his previous arrest in 2017, but prison officials appear to have used a very expansionary approach to applying time credits to his sentence, said Executive Gregory Totten Officer of the California District Attorneys Association and former District Attorney of Ventura County.
“They have been given very broad powers over parolees and given them extra credit and all sorts of considerations to reduce the length of prison time someone is serving,” Totten said.
Correctional officials did not dispute that Martin was among thousands of inmates who received additional credit that expedited his release under state law. But they said their policy forbids disclosure of what loans Martin received.
They cited credit from Proposition 57, the 2016 election measure aimed at giving most criminals a chance at early release. Loans have also been largely approved to bring down the prison population during the pandemic.
Proposition 57 credits include good behavior, although corrections officers would not release Martin’s disciplinary report. Good behavior credits are to be reserved for inmates who follow all rules and fulfill their assigned duties.
The state “has instituted various credit acquisition opportunities to incentivize good behavior and participation in programs for incarcerated individuals, including those created to further Proposition 57 — which voters passed overwhelmingly.” , Corrections spokeswoman Vicky Waters said in a statement.
Proponents, including former Gov. Jerry Brown, who pushed for Proposition 57, say it’s important to give inmates a second chance. The opportunity for early release encourages inmates to participate in educational and other rehabilitation programs while helping to reduce mass incarceration.
“California’s recent reforms aim to change a culture that has created recidivism problems for generations,” said Will Matthews, spokesman for Californians for Safety and Justice, who supported the changes. “The question we need to ask is: how do we engage in behavior change?”
Under Proposition 57, credit is earned for completing rehabilitation or educational programs, serving self-help and volunteering in the public service, earning a high school diploma or college degree, and performing an act of heroism. Officials added credits during the coronavirus pandemic, including 12 weeks of credit that applied to most inmates.
Martin was denied parole in May 2021 under California’s Nonviolent Offenders Trial for earlier parole, according to a letter from the Sacramento County Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors protested his long criminal record, alleging that Martin had “clearly little regard for human life and the law.”
Six months after his 18th birthday, Martin was caught in January 2013 with an assault rifle and two fully loaded 25-round magazines, according to prosecutors. Months later, he shoved a Walmart employee aside to steal $2,800 worth of computers, they said. In 2016, he was arrested at large as a probation officer. And less than six months later was the attack that sent him back to prison.
It’s not clear if Martin has an attorney who can comment on his behalf.
Martin pleaded no plea and was jailed in January 2018 on charges of assault and assault likely to result in grievous bodily harm as part of a plea deal dismissing charges of kidnapping – which is considered a violent crime – and intimidating a witness or victim .
The sentencing judge awarded Martin 508 days credit for the time he served in the Sacramento County Jail prior to his sentencing, based on a California law that allows judges to double the actual jail time, which in Martin’s case was 254 days .
Martin also had “a variety of additional post-conviction credits,” which according to Corrections Department spokeswoman Dana Simas, were awarded for time served while awaiting transfer from the county jail to the state jail.
Prior to Proposal 57, he would have qualified for 20% “good time” credits – meaning he could reduce his time on duty by a fifth – but correctional officers used their powers under the electoral measure to increase this to 50%. Pending rules, opposed by most state prosecutors, would increase the time penalty for such repeat offenders to two-thirds of a sentence.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a progressive Democrat who formerly headed the state Senate, was among those upset when he learned of Martin’s record.
“If people have committed acts of violence in the past and have shown no inclination or willingness to change, I don’t think they should take to the streets,” he said at an event where officials are demanding more than $3 billion the state to expand crime prevention programs.
Republican Senator Jim Nielsen, who once headed the state parole board, said “good time” credits are generally awarded automatically without inmates having to do anything to earn them.
“It gives them tremendous opportunity to free up beds,” said Nielsen, an opponent of previous releases.
The state has relied on such efforts, particularly its powers under Proposition 57, to keep prison populations below levels required by a panel of federal judges, who ruled that inmate overcrowding has resulted in unconstitutionally poor conditions .
Martin was released under the supervision of the Sacramento County Parole Department in February. County parole officials declined to name the conditions, saying their records are not public documents.
Without discussing Martin’s case, Karen Pank, executive director of the Chief Probation Officers of California, said that generally, someone who comes out of prison under Post Release Community Supervision and has an extensive and violent history is likely to be treated with a “high-risk” case would have been .
This would subject him to more intensive monitoring, including a requirement to report more frequently and personally to his probation officer, although individual risk and needs assessments would be made and treatment and services would continue to be provided.
Hours before Sunday’s shooting, Martin posted a live video on Facebook brandishing a pistol, a police officer told The Associated Press. The officer was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the investigation into the shootings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Pank said if there is evidence that a criminal is in possession of a firearm, it can be grounds for a violation that can lead to a prison sentence. However, it is unlikely that anyone from law enforcement could have acted in time even if they saw the video.
“The big if would have been if they had known about it,” Totten said. But in this case, “it didn’t matter — it was so close to the time” of filming.
Associated Press contributors Adam Beam, Stefanie Dazio, and Michael Balsamo contributed to this story. Dazio reported from Los Angeles and Balsamo from Washington, DC