Several hundred District of Columbia prisoners incarcerated since 1985 won a victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals on September 12, 2014 when that court reinstated their class-action lawsuit against the government. The suit contests application of changes to parole guidelines in 2000 that had the effect of adding six to 18 years to some prisoners’ sentences.
In remanding the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which had dismissed the case, the Court of Appeals said that the prisoners had made a plausible cause that the 2000 changes violated the Constitution’s Ex-Post Facto Clause.
U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland wrote that under previous guidelines, “the plaintiffs were not subject to any recommended period of parole unsuitability at all, and could have been paroled immediately upon serving their minimum sentences. Under the 2000 Guidelines, by contrast, they are subject to guideline ranges that far exceed those minimum sentences.” Garland was joined in his opinion by Judges Laurence H. Silberman and Sri Srinivasan.
D.C. prisoners have been left to the caprice of the United States Parole Commission since Congress abolished the D.C. Board of Parole during the District’s financial meltdown in the 1990s, and many D.C. prisoners have been confined in prisons across the country in the Federal Bureau of Prisons since.
An attorney for the prisoners, Kenneth J. Pfaehler, said, “What is disturbing is that . . . this case has been going on for years now, while inmates are sitting in prison because laws that weren’t in effect when they committed their crimes have been applied to them.”
To learn more about this case, read the Washington Post’s article U.S. appeals court revives parole challenge by D.C. inmates imprisoned since 1985 by Spencer S. Hsu.