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U.S. Supreme Court Rules Unconstitutional California's Sentencing Procedures

"Debi Zuver & Tanya Brannan at CCWF"
Debbi Zuver & Tanya Brannan at CCWF

In a key ruling in late January, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some 10,000 California prison sentences as unconstitutional. Among those struck down is Debi Zuver's 21-year sentence for manslaughter. Zuver shot and killed her abusive partner, Kim Garloff, on Thanksgiving night, 2000. Immediately before the shooting, Garloff had beaten and threatened to kill her.

California's sentencing guidelines provide for an maximum, mid-line and minimum sentence term for each crime. In Cunningham v. California, the Supreme Court laid down the final word on those sentencing guidelines, requiring that any sentence above the mid-line term must be based on facts proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Debi Zuver was not tried by a jury but, after pleading guilty to manslaughter, was sentenced to the maximum (11 years) for manslaughter, and the maximum (10 years) for use of a gun in the homicide. The enhanced sentence was based primarily on the recommendations in a pre-sentencing probation report and not on facts proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Debi's appeal of the sentence began almost immediately, and it has taken until now to exhaust all her state court remedies and move her appeal into federal court. One of the key points of her appeal is this issue of the constitutionality of her sentence. Her appeal, among thousands of others, has been pending awaiting the Supreme Court's decision on this issue in Cunningham.

So far, we have no indication from the Court as to how these appeals will be resolved. The Court has a number of options, including scheduling new sentencing hearings for all 10,000 defendants, or just rolling all the sentences back to the mid-line. If the final result is a mid-line sentence, Debi would be freed in 2009. (Currently she's slated to serve until 2018.)

A Call For Support
This will be a tense (and expensive) time for Debi as she prepares to respond to the Court's decision in her case. She is gathering recommendations and testimonials from officials and groups who have worked with her in prison and getting the record ready for the Court's review.

One thing that would impress the Court favorably would be to see that she has paid off her restitution, some $4,000 she was ordered to pay to Garloff's family. Only $700 of that remains to be paid, and we want to retire that debt before the federal court looks at her case. The prison takes 33% of all funds deposited on Debi's books and applies that to the restitution.

Purple Berets are committed to raising the $2,100 it will take to retire Debi's restitution debt and provide the funds she'll need to get through these next months. You can contribute in any of three ways:

1. On the net, at www.jpay.com. Then choose California Prison system; and when prompted enter her name (Debi Zuver) and ID# (W93142). Jpay charges a fee of about $2, but the money will be deposited on her books immediately.

2. By money order.
Show on the face of the money order and mail to:
Debi Zuver #W93142
506-23-3 low
PO Box 1504
Chowchilla, CA 93610-1508

3. Write a check to Purple Berets.
Note "Zuver" in the memo section and mail to:
Purple Berets
PO Box 3064
Santa Rosa, CA 95402

We have been the primary source of support for Debi throughout the seven years of her incarceration. This is a moment where that support can have a huge impact on her future. Please don't let her down.

Tanya Brannan

March 2007


© Tanya Brannan, Purple Berets
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