A California State Court of Appeal ruled that the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) denied parole without considering the youth of William Palmer, who committed kidnapping for robbery as a juvenile. The court ordered the board to give Palmer a new parole hearing and consider his age at the time of the crime.
“Considering the Board’s statutory obligation to give “great weight” to those (youth) factors, its decision to find Palmer unsuitable for release, despite the presence of almost all the variables the Board itself has deemed indicative of statutory youth offender factors, cannot stand.” (First Appellate District, Division Two of the Court of Appeal of California. In re Palmer 27 Cal.App.5th 120)
The youth offender laws requires the Board to presume a person who committed their crime when they were under 26 years old suitable for release “unless there is substantial evidence” the youth offender remains an unreasonable risk to public safety.
In 1988, Palmer, a 17-year-old high school dropout pled guilty to kidnapping for robbery and was sentenced as an adult to 15 years to life with the possibility of parole. He appeared before the Board 10 times, without success.
In June of 2015, Palmer received a five-year parole denial as a result of two rule violations he received for using an illegal cell phone in 2012 to tell his sister their mother died and giving a T-shirt to his girlfriend during a visit in 2014, court records show.
Board, in making their determination, did not give “great weight” to the fact Palmer committed his crime when he was 17 years old and the changes he has made since.
The First Appellate District found that denying Palmer youth offender parole was arbitrary and capricious because the Board did not give “great weight” to the statutory youth factors and the Board did not explain why Palmer’s two rule violations were substantial evidence that outweighed all of his other positive achievements that he had accomplished while incarcerated.
During his incarceration, Palmer obtained his high school diploma, earned an Associate in Arts degree, joined Arts in Corrections and learned how to paint; he sold some of his artwork and painted three murals on the prison grounds. He also participated in a range of self-help programs, including substance abuse and victim impact, the Long-Term Offender Pilot Program, courses on conflict resolution and anger management, faith-based self-improvement programs, Narcotics Anonymous, Criminal Gangs and Violence Prevention Program; tutored other youth offenders; volunteered as an inmate peer health educator; and participated in the Visiting Beautification Project. Palmer also had solid parole plans, letters of support from family, friends, prison staff and correctional officers, and community volunteers.
The court noted that the statutory “great weight” provision of the youth factors “diminishes the Board’s discretion to determine the basis upon which suitability or unsuitability for release may be determined.”
UPDATE: On January 16, 2019, as this article was going to print, the California Supreme Court granted review in In re Palmer, Case Number S252145 and ordered that the opinion filed September 13, 2018 which appears at 27 Cal.App.5th 120 be de-published. Therefore, this case may not be cited for precedence. The questions presented on review may take up to a year to decide.