California is one of only four states in the country where the governor has the absolute right to review and reverse grants of parole to certain prisoners. These are inmates sentenced to an indeterminate term of up to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Indeterminate means there is no fixed statutory maximum amount of time an inmate may serve.
Under Article V, section 8, subdivision (b) of the state constitution, the Governor has executive authority to affirm, reverse or modify any Board decision to grant parole to a convicted murderer. In all other life with the possibility of parole cases, the Governor is limited to asking the parole board for further review and considering rescinding or modifying the grant.
California inmates serving indeterminate life sentences, such as the 15-years-to-life or 25-years-to-life sentences that are common for murder convictions where the death penalty is not sought, become eligible for parole consideration once they have served a certain minimum number of years of their sentence.
Parole eligibility entitles an inmate to a hearing to determine her or his suitability for parole before the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). The BPH is required to hold a parole eligibility hearing at regular intervals every three to 15 years for prisoners with indeterminate life sentences.
California Penal Code section 3041 makes it clear that parole is supposed to be the rule, not the exception, for inmates sentenced to life in prison. However, whether a prisoner poses a current danger to public safety can result in denial. If either the BPH or the Governor denies parole, a person serving a life sentence may petition the state courts for a review of that decision, but only insofar as to show that their constitutional rights somehow violated in reaching a decision to deny parole.
Recently, the California Court of Appeal affirmed Governor’s denial of parole for a defendant convicted of murder serving a life sentence who had been granted parole by the BPH.
In re Chester N. LeBlanc (Court of Appeals, May 21, 2014)
Chester N. LeBlanc filed an appeal in the California Court of Appeal following Governor Brown’s denial of his parole. The petitioner received a life sentence for the 1980 stabbing murder of his girlfriend’s two-year-old son. The Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) initially granted parole. However, the governor denied parole because he found LeBlanc’s explanation for his crime superficial and was concerned about the defendant’s continuing mental health problems.
LeBlanc claimed that he was abused by his own father as a rationale for murdering his girlfriend’s child. The governor’s decision noted that being self-centered was a “shallow explanation” for killing a child, while being a victim of child abuse “does not adequately explain” why he suddenly chose to kill a toddler.
The court affirmed the governor’s denial of parole, ruling that LeBlanc’s history of domestic violence, his history of alcoholism prior to his incarceration and admitted depression while imprisoned, combined with his superficial response to why he had committed such a brutal crime against a small child, demonstrated his continuing threat to public safety and thus justified the governor’s denial of parole.
When is a “Lifer” Eligible for Parole?
Under Penal Code section 3041, a life prisoner eligible for parole must be granted parole unless the board or the governor concludes “the public safety requires a lengthier period of incarceration.”
The California Code of Regulations governs a prisoner’s suitability for parole, listing a variety of factors to be considered in evaluating a prisoner’s suitability for parole, including:
- The heinousness of the crime;
- Disciplinary record in prison;
- Programming and rehabilitation;
- Psychological evaluations;
- Current risk of danger to public safety; and
- Plans for future release (for example, a place to live, a job offer, family and community support)
The California Penal Code and Code of Regulations require the board to set a release date for an inmate unless the inmate currently poses an unreasonable risk of danger to the public. If the panel finds an inmate suitable and grants parole, the decision is subject to review by the full board. Absent action by the full board, an inmate’s grant of parole becomes final 120 days after the hearing and then goes to the governor for his review.
Governor Brown Agrees to Allow More Lifers Parole than Any of His Predecessors
Governor Brown’s administration has been remarkably lenient when deciding whether to go along with a BPH decision to grant parole.
Approximately 1,400 out the of nearly 1,600 lifers that were reviewed in California’s prisons have been released over the past three years in California since Jerry Brown became governor. Under previous administrations, murderers and others sentenced to life with the possibility of parole almost never got out.
Governor Brown has affirmed 82% of parole board decisions, resulting in a record number of inmates with life sentences being released.
Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, authorized the release of 557 lifers during his six-year term, affirming a BPH decision to grant parole about 27 percent of the time. Before that, Governor Gray Davis approved just two lifer parole decisions during his entire three-year term.
Gov. Brown has stated that he relies on the rule of law in making a decision whether to affirm or reject the Parole Board’s decision to grant parole in a lifer’s case. He also points to California’s prison overcrowding crisis – which resulted in federal decisions mandating that the state reduce its prison population – as a factor in deciding to approve the granting of lifer parole much more often than previous California governors.
However, because affirming or rejecting the Parole Board’s decision to grant parole is generally a highly political issue, there is no guarantee that lifers seeking parole suitability hearings will enjoy the current attitude of leniency.
Contact Wallin & Klarich Today about Representation during a Lifer Parole Hearing
If you or someone in your family is a life prisoner eligible for a parole suitability hearing, you should speak with one of our experienced attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today.
Wallin & Klarich may make the difference between your freedom and years of continued incarceration. We can help you demonstrate that you’ve been successfully rehabilitated and would not pose a danger to society if you were released from custody.
With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, Wallin & Klarich can help you no matter where you work or live. Let us help you win back your freedom.
Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free telephone consultation. We will get through this together.