A 59-year old man is currently serving an aggregate prison term of 21-1/2 years to life arising out of his 1982 convictions for various drug crimes, including marijuana possession, and attempted escape from prison. The prisoner challenged the denial of his application for parole before the Board of Parole. .
The court held that record demonstrates that the Board appropriately considered the statutory factors, including the seriousness of the prisoner’s crimes, his prior criminal history, positive program achievements while incarcerated and post-release plans.
While the dissent minimized the seriousness of the prisoner’s offenses, describing them as neither violent nor accompanied by a history of violent crimes, the record before the Board showed that the prisoner petitioner had been a drug dealer for 10 years and that his activities escalated to high-level cocaine trafficking that did, in fact, directly lead to the violent death of one police officer and the grievous wounding of another at the hands of his co-defendant brother. The court said that, contrary to the dissent’s view, the Board could reach its conclusion after weighing the prisoner’s accomplishments in prison against the level of violence associated with the drug trafficking and the drug crimes of which he was convicted without improperly considering matters outside the record
The court also said that it is not its role to assess whether the Board gave the proper weight to the relevant factors, nor articulate each factor in its decision, and it is permissible for the Board to emphasixe the seriousness of a petitioner’s offense. It is only important to determine whether the Board followed the statutory guidelines and rendered a determination that is supported, and not contradicted, by the facts in the record. The court further said that it could not effectively review the Board’s weighing process, given that it is not required to state each factor that it considers, weigh each factor equally or grant parole as a reward for exemplary institutional behavior.
The dissent noted that the 1980 drug crime committed by the prison involved a large amount of cocaine, but, unlike many other cases in which the Board has relied primarily on the seriousness of an offender’s crimes in denying parole, the prisoner’s crimes were neither violent nor accompanied by a history of other serious or violent crimes. The dissent further noted that the prisoner had a perfect disciplinary record for at least 15 years, completed all of the recommended programs, overcome drug and alcohol addictions, and participated in various vocational and educational programs. The prisoner’s post-release plan include participation in a veterans’ transitional employment program and volunteering in programs for substance abusers.
Accordingly, the court concluded that as the Board’s determination in this case is supported by the record and does not display irrationality bordering on impropriety. The court declined to disturb the denial of the application for parole.
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