Demanding Admissions of Guilt as a Condition for Parole

There was an interesting article in the New York Times (and part two here) about how at least New York Parole boards are starting to move away from the position that an offender has to admit guilt as a precondition of parole. As more and more exonerations have shown us, a prisoner’s claims of innocence are real. Additionally, parole board’s often demand the offender accept the victim’s versions of events when the truth is somewhere between the two positions. More troubling is the continued belief that confession is good for the soul. Many habitual offenders are very good at apologizing and showing remorse when caught. The problem is that they go right out and commit new crimes again. Conversely, the individuals who do not feign a confession to get their freedom may be demonstrating much higher moral character. Then there is the question of a pending appeal. An individual maintains their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent through the conclusion of their direct appeal. These procedures place too high a tax on the defendant exercising his/her Fifth Amendment rights.

The United States Supreme Court
split badly the last time the question was before them about whether an offender could assert the Fifth Amendment privilege of self-incrimination without penalty at a parole interview. The deciding vote was Justice O’Connor who has since left the Court.

Ninth Circuit Invalidates Supervised Release Condition Barring Association With Defendant's Own Children

An important law review was just published on why courts need to be taking a new look at “shaken baby syndrome” based convictions based on the new evidence. The author of the article is Professor Keith Findley was is the director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. This article is one of many recent developments which suggest that courts may finally have to reassess their position on this highly controversial diagnosis. Read More...

Attack on the Michigan Parole Board Continues

This is an update and consolidation of several Miller stories posted over the last several days. Last June the United States Supreme Court struck down a mandatory life without a parole sentence given to juveniles who kill. Michigan is the state with second largest group of juveniles serving these JLWOP (“juvenile life without parole”) sentences; Pennsylvania will be the first comprehensive decision. Florida has ruled that Miller is not retroactive in an unpublished decision where the defendant didn’t have counsel and missed key arguments. Louisiana has ruled that Miller is retroactive, but they did so in a summary order without much reasoning. We will be arguing later today that Miller is retroactive in what should be the second comprehensive decision. Read More...

Sixth Circuit Rules that Michigan's Parole Guidelines Don't Create a Liberty Interest

A number of years ago, the Michigan Legislature adopted parole guidelines to attempt to reduce the disparity between the individuals who received parole and those who didn’t. The Guidelines were originally part of the legislation which created our sentencing guidelines. They were separated at some point and were passed separately. The statute creates three tiers of offenders: (1) those with a low probability of parole; (2) those with a high probability of parole; and, (3) hose with an average probability of a parole.

Those with individuals with an average probability of parole had no statutory preference for or against a parole. Those individuals who had a high and low probabilities of parole either had a statutory presumption in favor of or against a parole. The legislature copied the language for parole standards from our sentencing guidelines and stated that departures from the guidelines should only be for “substantial and compelling” reasons. Case law interpreting the sentencing guidelines said that this was a high standard and imposed a requirement that “substantial and compelling” had to be objectively verifiable.

On its face, this would seem that Michigan had created a liberty interest in our parole scheme. Ordinarily there is no right to a parole which is protected by the due process clause to the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court in
Greenholtz v Nebraska Penal Complex found that a Nebraska scheme which found that a Nebraska law provided that a parole should be granted unless certain objective factors were present created a liberty interest. Michigan’s law facially seemed to match this criteria, but Michigan Courts had constantly interpreted the law to the contrary. On September 20, 2011 in Crump v Lafler the Sixth Circuit appeared to drive a stake through the heart of the argument. The Court stated that historically both federal courts and Michigan courts have rejected the stricter interpretation of MIchigan law and concluded that Michigan’s scheme only created a “hope” of parole.

Judge Cole wrote a nice dissent arguing to the contrary. HIs approach matches what the Legislature intended, but the ruling may be a lone voice in the wind. Presumably the Petitioner will be seeking en band rehearing and/or certiorari. Stay tuned.

New Parole Board Announced

As was noted earlier, Governor Snyder issued an executive order reorganizing the Parole Board and moving them from an executive level position to a position under the Department of Corrections. Because of this, a new Board was appointed. The MDOC issued a press release yesterday containing the composition of the new Board. Many of the old Board members will remain, but Tom Combs is now the chair. Barb Sampson is now just an ordinary Board Member. The new appointments seem to come mostly from law enforcement. It is unclear how this will effect the policies of the Board.

Governor Snyder Reorganizes Michigan Parole Board & Abolishes Clemency Advisory Council.

On February 7, 2011, Governor Snyder signed Executive Order No. 2011-3 which effectively restored the state of the Michigan’s Parole and Commutation System to where it was before 2007. The order moves the Parole & Commutation Board (now renamed the “Parole Board”) back to the Department of Corrections, places it under the control of the Director of the Department of Corrections, and abolishes the Executive Clemency Advisory Council. The order also reduces the size of the Board from fifteen to ten members and makes them all reapply for their jobs. Prior to 2007, the Board was also at ten members.

It is unclear what other policy changes are lurking under this change, but this could mean that the current administration is deemphasizing community reintegration as part of its corrections strategy. The extra five members were added to the Board could keep up with its increased workload. The downsizing in staff could mean a corresponding downsizing in the amount of paroles and clemencies.

Update: I just found an article on this order by Paul Eagan of the Detroit News. His article makes a couple of points. First, it quotes Governor Snyder saying that “we need to let the professionals in the Corrections Department determine whether it’s appropriate to release prisoners.” This could mean that Snyder is intending to be more deferential to his Corrections Director’s policies. That Director still needs to be named. Second, it could be a SOP to prosecutors who complained that Governor Granholm’s accelerated process was too accelerated. Mr. Eagan ran a similar article yesterday, but it seems to have similar content.

Grand Rapids Press stated that Governor Snyder was actually doing this with the intent to do de-politicize the process. It cited to a commitment by the Snyder Administration to continue to “right size” Michigan prisons. Their article cited to a National Council of State Legislature’s expert who stated that Michigan was holding prisoners too long and that that prisoners should be presumptively entitled to parole after serving 120% of their sentence.

Last month, I commented on
New York Governor Cuomo’s decision to right size New York prisons and the fighting he was facing from their unions and politicians. For those who are interested, here is a link to the Governor’s Press release. It doesn’t appear to add anything new. Stay tuned.

SCOTUS Rebukes Ninth Circuit for Interferring With California Parole Process

In Swarthourt v Cooke, Supreme Court No. 10-333, the Court granted certiorari on a rather boring question concerning habeas corpus law: “Whether a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner based on its view that the state court erred in applying the state-law standard of evidentiary sufficiency governing state parole decisions.” The Court’s ruling (rendered without oral) arguments maybe a near hands off declaration by the Supreme Court on state parole decionmarking.

The Ninth Circuit found that California’s statute created a liberty interest in a parole. The Court found that this liberty interest conveyed only very basic protections: (a) the ability of the prisoner to appear and present arguments for a parole; (b) to have notice of the evidence against him/her; (c) the right to inspect this evidence (subject to limitations), and (c) the right to a statement of reasons against him/her.
The Court dropped a hint that it might be willing to reconsider the federal law on the subject about whether state law can even create a liberty interest in favor of parole. The Court said: “the Ninth Circuit held that California law creates a liberty interest in parole, see 606 F. 3d, at 1213. While we have no need to review that holding here, it is a reasonable application of our cases.” The Court, then, however noted that the four pieces of the due process outlined above “should have been the beginning and the end of the federal habeas courts’ inquiry into whether Cooke and Clay received due process.”

Most ominously, the Court declared: “The short of the matter is that the responsibility for assuring that the constitutionally adequate procedures governing California’s parole system are properly applied rests with California courts,and is no part of the Ninth Circuit’s business.”

Parolees Do Better Not Going Home

Today’s New York Times had an interesting article dealing with an area of corrections which is often overlooked -- providing for a smart reintegration into the community. Typically, when a prisoner is released he is given a few dollars (e.g. $100) and told to go fend for himself. He or she normally goes back to the community he or she came from and not surprisingly falls back into old habits. In some states, going back to the home city is statutorily required for most prisoners. A study recently conducted on inmates who were released in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina showed that they returned to prison at statistically significant lower rate because they couldn’t return home. The article is part of an NY Times series and well worth a read.

This week’s runner up in journalism about prisons goes to the Toronto Globe and Mail who ran a great article on the mentally ill in prison.

The Great Recession Has Forced a New Exploration of Rehabilitation Instead of Retribution in Sentencing

An interesting debate as been growing in the media about whether refocusing the criminal justice system back towards rehabilitation is a smart budget cutting move. Michigan Department of Corrections Director Patricia Caruso has channeled significant resources into rechanneling corrections towards community based supervision and away from incarceration. Despite significant evidence that this works, vast improvements criminogenic predictive tests, and technology for enhanced supervision, prosecutors continue to argue that the only cure is long prison sentences. Earlier this month, the New York Times had a fascinating story about this. Meanwhile a report from Texas (of all states) notes a significant cost savings and reduction in reoffenses in cases utilizing a similar approach. To read the story, click here. Similarly, a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes similar trends in many states. For more information on these sentencing/parole predictors from an academic perspective, explore this article (pay access) by Professors Davis, Severy, Kraus, and Whitake

Idaho Supreme Court Overturns Ban on Sex Offender Father Contacting His Own Children

A frequent condition of sex offender paroles is that an individual cannot have any contact with any minor children. The Idaho Supreme Court recently reversed such a condition to the extent that it barred a parent from associating with his own children. Relying on the Washington Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Letourneau, 997 P.2d 436, 441 (Wash. Ct. App. 2000), the Court found that such a ruling infringed on the defendant’s constitutional right to family integrity and otherwise constituted an abuse of discretion. State v Cobbler, Idaho Supreme Court No. 34308.

Detroit Free Press Studies Michigan Parole Reforms

The Detroit Free Press has started a series of comprehensive articles examining the changes in Michigan’s parole system. The Free Press cites a 90% success rate with the new intensive parole program, but asks whether a 10% error rate is acceptable.

California Supreme Court Frees Lifer Where They Was No Valid Reason for Governor to Veto Parole

The Post-Conviction Justice Project at USC Law recently prevailed in a defining case for the California parole system for long-time client Sandra Davis-Lawrence The students argued and the California Supreme Court agreed -- that a life-term prisoner is entitled to be granted parole once the prisoner no longer poses a danger to the community. The court rejected the governor’s reversal of the parole commission’s grant of parole based solely on the circumstances of Sandra Davis-Lawrence’s 1971 commitment offense (first-degree murder), holding that the reversal violated her due process rights. The 4 to 3 ruling provides meaningful judicial review of parole decisions by the Board of Parole Hearings and the governor, and could affect nearly 1,000 parole cases now on appeal. Lawyers on both sides said it was the first time in recent history that the state’s highest court has ruled in favor of a prisoner in a parole case.