When a state court determines that the Board of Parole Hearings has denied parole without any evidence of current dangerousness, the court may only “direct the board to conduct a new parole-suitability hearing.” The court may not direct the board to find the inmate suitable for parole or restrict the type of evidence the board may consider at the hearing, according to the California Supreme Court’s decision, In re Prather [50 Cal 4th 238, Case No. S172903, July 29, 2010]
The California Supreme Court, in the Prather case, only considered what remedy a court may order when the parole board denies parole. California courts and federal courts may order the release of an inmate after a court determines that a governor’s decision reversing a grant of parole suitability was not supported by “some evidence” of current dangerousness. A court may order an inmate’s release after it determines that a governor’s decision reversing a grant of parole was not supported by some evidence of current dangerousness. [In re McDonald, No B219424, ___Cal. Rptr 3d.___, 201 WL 4296703 at *9-10, Cal. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 2010]
An order by a California state court granting a new parole hearing may not restrict the parole board from considering the full record in making a parole suitability determination. The Prather decision stated that courts may not “direct the board to reach a particular result or consider only a limited category of evidence in making a suitability decision.”
However, the Prather Court acknowledged that, “in appropriate circumstances,” a court may “order that the board not base an unsuitability determination solely upon evidence already considered and rejected by the board.”
The California Supreme Court stated that an explicit order restricting the board from using evidence already considered and rejected by a court is unnecessary. That is because “the board is required to adhere to the decision of the Court of Appeal” or comply with an order made by a Superior Court that was not appealed.
The Prather Court stated that a court “order granting habeas corpus relief implicitly precludes the board from again denying parole” unless some additional evidence supports a determination that the prisoner remains currently dangerous. That evidence can be considered alone or in conjunction with other evidence in the record, which was not already considered and rejected by the reviewing court.
SEPARATION OF POWERS
In a concurring opinion in Prather, Justice Moreno clarified that the board may have its discretion limited or even eliminated entirely by a court issuing a writ of habeas corpus. The Prather court based its decision on the doctrine of separation of powers. This means the board or the governor has discretion to make parole decisions and the judicial branch cannot usurp those functions.
Justice Moreno explained that separation of powers also requires “that courts must be able to play their assigned role of reviewing agency decisions and fashioning appropriate remedies when an agency has abused its discretion.”
At a parole rehearing ordered by a reviewing court, the board “cannot, after having its parole denial decision reversed, continue to deny parole based on matters that could have been but were not raised” in the original decision. The board cannot deny parole “based on argument and evidence that reasonably could have been but were not raised at these prior proceedings.”
A court may order expedited parole hearings when it orders that a new hearing be held.
If the board again denies parole and the court finds the denial was unjustified, “an order that the board grant parole may well be warranted.” The governor would still have the right to review that decision.
— Hector Oropeza contributed to this story.