By Michael Brodheim In the wake of the California Supreme Court’s ruling in In Re Shaputis, 53 Cal. 4th 192 (Cal. 2011) [PLN, Aug. 2012, p.16], lower courts in California continue to struggle with the issue of whether a denial of parole predicated on “lack of insight” is supported, in any given case, by the…

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By John E. Dannenberg

Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown approved four out of every five parole grant decisions by the Board of Parole Hearings (Board) for prisoners convicted of murder, sentenced to life with parole. Totaling parole grants for 377 lifers, Brown’s record dwarfs the scanty parole approvals of his predecessors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gray Davis.

California’s parole process for life-sentenced murderers has been stymied for decades by governors who fear the political repercussions of paroling lifers, based on what happened to former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Dukakis had permitted a violent prisoner serving a life sentence, Willie Horton, to have a weekend furlough; while on furlough Horton committed additional violent crimes, including armed robbery, assault and rape.

When Governor Dukakis later ran for President in 1988, his rivals produced a TV ad depicting a revolving door that showed him giving furloughs to violent felons. The infamous ad labeled Dukakis a “soft on crime” liberal who allowed dangerous criminals to commit more crimes. He subsequently lost the presidential election to George H.W. Bush.

Since then, few politicians have ventured to use their discretion to release prisoners serving life sentences for murder. In California, the first governor to be granted the statutory power to make such decisions was Gray Davis. His statement at the time was that if you killed someone, forget it – you’re not getting out (notwithstanding that state law requires release on parole to “normally” be granted). In his years as governor, Davis arbitrarily overruled every favorable Board parole decision for life-sentenced murderers, save five – equating to a lifer parole rate of a fraction of one percent.

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By Christopher Zoukis

Oklahoma City District Attorney David Prater announced on March 13, 2013 that all five members of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board (“Board”) had been charged with criminal violations of the state’s Open Meeting Act in connection with some 51 early release requests that the Board considered but did not list on its public agendas since 2010.

The Board members were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Open Meeting Act, an offense punishable by up to a year in jail and a $500 fine for each willful violation pursuant to 25 Okla. Stat. § 313, 314. Additionally, a willful violation of the Act can result in invalidation of actions taken during a meeting not in compliance with the Act.

Board Chairman Marc Dreyer, 66, and members Currie Ballard, 54, Richard L. Dugger, 74 (a former district attorney), and Lynnell Harkins, 73, were charged with 10 counts of willful violation of the Act – one for each month they voted on early release requests after April 2011, when a state Assistant Attorney General held a training session on open meeting requirements for the Board. Board member David E. Moore, 65, was charged with nine counts.

District Attorney Prater issued a news release that alleged the Board had conducted business in a way “designed to hide potentially unpopular actions from the citizens it serves.” In a letter to the Board in August 2011, Prater warned that the Board’s failure to provide public notice of its early release deliberations was “egregious, aggravated, and a clear attempt to operate in secrecy, outside of public scrutiny.” In January 2013, Prater gave the Board members a chance to resign before charges were filed – an offer they rejected.

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