The primary purpose of a “lifer” parole hearing is to determine whether an individual is suitable for parole while serving a life sentence that allows for parole. The initial decision on the inmate’s suitability has to be made by the California Board of Parole Hearings, which evaluates various circumstances related to each case, including the severity of the committed offense, an inmate’s criminal, mental, or substance abuse history, existence of a prison record indicating his or her engagement in serious misconduct while incarcerated, and acceptance of responsibility for committing a crime. It is critical for an inmate to be able to present all relevant evidence tending to show his or her suitability for parole because the Board has discretion to delay the next “lifer” parole hearing for up to fifteen years after the hearing at which parole has been originally denied.
The Board’s decision to deny parole is subject to only limited judicial review. Such a decision will not be disturbed on appeal if there is “some evidence” that an inmate poses a current threat to public safety. This extremely deferential and very low standard has been established by the California Supreme Court, which found that constitutional due process guarantees did not require the Board to apply a higher “clear-and-convincing-evidence” standard in finding inmates unsuitable for parole. However, a California law extending time interval between parole hearings may be considered an ex post facto law when applied to inmates whose crime was committed before the law came into effect. This means that the law may not apply to prisoners sentenced before the law changed.
The Board may deny parole when, for example, an inmate committed the offense as a result of drugs or alcohol abuse and then fails to participate in a prison’s substance abuse program, or when he or she fails to demonstrate remorse for his or her criminal conduct. Nonetheless, the Board’s finding that an inmate is unsuitable for parole due to lack of insight into his or her crime will not be supported by sufficient evidence, when, for example, that inmate acknowledges material aspects of his or her conduct and offense, shows an understanding of its causes, and demonstrates remorse for his or her previous conduct. As a result, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney, who will provide accurate legal advice regarding this very complex area of law.
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