The question of what is a lack of insight sufficient to deny parole to a prisoner serving a life term was addressed in three cases decided by California Courts of Appeal in March and April 2011. The decisions instruct that a lack of some insight is not grounds to deny parole if an inmate accepts responsibility for the crime and understands its material aspects.
In re Javier Rodriguez on Habeas Corpus [No H035317, 6th Appellate District, 3/1/11]
The Board of Parole Hearings found Rodriguez, convicted in 1985 of a first-degree murder, suitable for parole in 2008. Former Gov. Schwarzenegger reversed the board’s decision citing “inconsistent statements” made by Rodriguez regarding the crime and a mental health evaluation that found he lacked insight into the crime.
The Court of Appeal cited the risk assessment that said Rodriguez, “appears to lack valuable insight into his involvement and level of responsibility in the life crime.” The evaluator concluded that Rodriguez “lacks a clear understating as to the causative factors behind his criminal actions, such as revenge or cultural or family loyalty issues, for example.”
LACK OF INSIGHT
The Court of Appeal noted that. “Neither Penal Code Section 3041, not the governing regulations list ‘lack of insight’ as an unsuitability factor.” The court acknowledged that an “inmate’s lack of insight has become a standard reason” for denying parole. The court found that Rodriguez’ lack of insight into why he allowed his brother to bring a gun into the car before returning to a convenience store where the victim was shot, was not “rationally indicative of current dangerousness.”
The court distinguished Rodriguez from the Shaputis decision [In re Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal. 4th 1241] where a lack of insight into past criminal conduct showed an inability to recognize the circumstances that led to the commitment crime. In Shaputis that inability suggested that the inmate remained “vulnerable to those circumstances and if confronted by them again, would likely react in a similar way.”
Rodriguez accepted responsibility for his role in the commitment offense. The court stated that a lack of insight into the crime “is indicative of current dangerousness only if it shows a material deficiency in [an inmate’s] understanding and acceptance of responsibility for the crime.”
The court indicated that the governor “took an isolated piece of evidence from the record and attempted to evaluate it in a vacuum.”
In re Kevin Jackson on Habeas Corpus [No. B228409, 2nd Appellate District, 3/30/11]
The Court of Appeal granted Jackson’s petition challenging a board’s decision in 2008 denying him parole for a 1981 second-degree murder.
The court held that the board could not use Jackson’s refusal to admit his guilt as evidence of a lack of insight. Jackson’s refusal to admit his guilt could also not be used as evidence of a failure to take responsibility or show remorse.
In this case, the court said Jackson’s version of the crime was not physically impossible nor did it strain credulity. Jackson accepted responsibility for the death of the victim and his insistence that he did not shoot the victim did not support a finding that he remained a danger to public safety.
In re Vincent Russo on Habeas Corpus [No. D057405, 4th Appellate District, 4/8/11]
The court upheld the 2009 decision by the board denying parole for a 1978 kidnapping for robbery. The board denied parole based on a lack of “insight into the causative factors of the crime.”
The court acknowledged that the “specific term ‘insight’ is not used in the statutes or regulations that form a basis for granting or denying parole” [but] the concept of self-knowledge is clearly routed in consideration of an inmate’s attitude about the commission of the crime.”
The court found that the prisoner’s version seemed to attribute “blame to the victim for his anger and subsequent actions.” The court found that petitioner’s attitude toward the crime was that it was “unintentional and even accidental.” The court denied the petition.
A concurring opinion by Justice Huffman stated that he disagreed with the board’s finding of unsuitability. However, he was “bound to view this record from the board’s perspective.” Justice Huffman expressed concern “about the amorphous nature” of the factor of “lack of insight” and expressed the “hope [that] the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to take up the question of the proper role of this non-statutory factor for assessing suitability for parole.”