District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed a civil lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court today against the State of California, Gov. Jerry Brown and two California Department of Corrections officials, seeking to have the controversial commutation of Esteban Nuñez declared unconstitutional.

Nuñez , the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez , was involved in a drunken brawl in 2008 near SDSU that left one man dead. Esteban Nuñez pleaded guilty to manslaughter, avoiding a possible life sentence if he had gone to trial on a murder charge. But then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger controversially commuted Nuñez ‘s sentence from 16 to 7 years on his last day in office.

Schwarzenegger later told Newsweek magazine: “Well, hello! I mean, of course you help a friend.”

Dumanis’ lawsuit is built around this concept: because Schwarzenegger didn’t tell Dumanis or the victims that he was going to commute Nuñez ‘s sentence, and because he also didn’t give them a chance to make their arguments to him before making the decision, he violated their constitutional rights under Marsy’s Law, a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008.

Also known as the Victim’s Bill of Rights Act, Marsy’s Law enshrined a host of new constitutional rights for people who have been the victims of crime. Dumanis cites three rights contained in the law that she claims Schwarzenegger violated:

• “The right to be heard, upon request, at any proceeding involving … a post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which a right of the victim is at issue.”

• “the right to be informed, upon request, of the conviction, sentence, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the defendant, the scheduled release of the defendant.”

• “To have the safety of the victim, the victim’s family and the general public considered before any parole or other post-judgment release decision is made.”

Though Dumanis doesn’t dispute the fact that Schwarzenegger has the constitutional right to commute Nuñez ‘s sentence, her argument is that he simply didn’t follow the correct procedure and therefore violated the constitutional rights of the victims, Deputy District Attorney Jill DiCarlo, who originally prosecuted Nuñez , told me.

DiCarlo further explained Dumanis’ reasoning:

“If the governor had followed Marsy’s Law and consulted the victims, even if his decision was based on ‘I did it for a friend,’ we wouldn’t have recourse.”

Dumanis is seeking to have the court declare Schwarzenegger’s commutation null and void. Her lawsuit also seeks to effectively force the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to keep Nuñez in prison for his full 16-year term

I’ve written extensively about the Nuñez controversy before.

This piece, filmed with our news partners NBC San Diego, explains the whole Nuñez affair.

There’s also this piece about new legislation that seeks to limit and clarify the governor’s constitutional right to commute a sentence.

And then there’s this story that I wrote back in 2008 when Nuñez was arrested and dozens of powerful people wrote letters to the judge in his case vouching for him.

Please contact Will Carless directly at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or at 619.550.5670 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/willcarless.

Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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