When an inmate becomes eligible for parole, they go before a parole board for a suitability hearing. The parole board’s job at that hearing is to determine whether that inmate is suitable for parole, meaning he is no longer considered to be dangerous or a threat to public safety. The parole board must have “some evidence” supporting their conclusion if they deny an inmate parole.
Recently, a California Court of Appeals held that the Board of Parole Hearings arbitrarily denied an inmate parole on the mere fact that the inmate’s recounting of the crime did not exactly match the official report that described the offense. The court instructed the Board that while the inmate’s recounting of the event is a factor to consider, it is not dispositive. The Board must focus on whether the inmate continued to be dangerous or a threat to public safety, and to do this the Board must look at factors such as whether the inmate showed insight, remorse, or took responsibility for his offense. The Court admonished the Board for instead arbitrarily “enshrining” the official version of the event.
The Court’s opinion involved an inmate who appeared before the parole board 17 years after he “shot and paralyzed a rival gang member in a drive-by shooting [he] committed when he was 16 years old.” The parole board denied parole, finding the inmate continued to be a threat to society because he did not admit he directed the driver which route to take, and because he denied being “vice president” of the gang. These “facts” were contained in the original appellate opinion.
During the parole hearing, the inmate freely disclosed that he had been deeply entrenched in the gang, and he took responsibility for his actions. He said he fired his gun when he had the opportunity, that no one made him do it, and he took sole responsibility for that act. He also informed the board that the gang did not have titles like “vice president,” but he was looked to as a leader amongst the younger members of the gang.
The inmate’s psychological review showed a low risk for future violence, that he had insight into his crime, he appeared to have remorse, and he had empathy for the victim and the victim’s family. During his incarceration, the inmate received laudatory reports from a corrections officer and a behavior commendation, he earned 38 certificates for participating in counseling and vocational classes, and he participated in bible study. Additionally, the inmate sent an apology letter to the cousin of the victim for the harm he imposed on the victim and his family. He did not want to send the letter directly to the victim because he was worried about reopening old wounds.
The court found that the Board was arbitrary in denying the inmate parole. The court also found that there was not a huge discrepancy between the inmate’s account of the event and the appellate opinion, and importantly, the inmate unequivocally took full responsibility for the event and showed remorse.