« Mass molester Larry Nassar gets another 40 to 125 years in his third and final sentencing | Main | Reviewing the potential import and impact of Prez Trump's talk of prison reform »

February 5, 2018

Examining whether juve life with parole in Maryland really means a real chance at parole

This lengthy new Washington Post article, headlined "The life sentence he got as a teen came with a chance at parole. But is it a real chance?," provides a deep dive into what parole eligibility means these days in one state and highlights why there is sure to be debates and litigation over the Supreme Court's rulings in Graham and Miller for many years to come.  Here are excerpts:

Walter Irving Maddox was on the phone making New Year’s Eve plans when he heard a knock on the door of his secluded cottage steps from the creek where he’d spent decades hauling crabs.  He laid the phone on a bed.  From the other end of the line, his girlfriend heard voices.  Then, sharp banging and doors slamming, followed by groans and gurgling.

The metallic sound, she would soon learn, was neighborhood teenager, James E. Bowie, pummeling 68-year-old Maddox with an aluminum baseball bat.  Bowie was a high school dropout, fueled by drugs and anger.  He never intended to hurt Maddox so severely, just to subdue him while a friend grabbed the waterman’s cash, he said recently.

Maddox, now 90, was never the same. “It just destroyed his memory,” said Maddox’s son, who shares his father’s name. “They took his life away from him, but they didn’t finish the job.”

Bowie was 17. He was sentenced in 1997 to life in prison with the possibility of parole — a possibility his lawyers say exists on paper, but carries no real chance for release.

Maryland is one of three states, with California and Oklahoma, that requires the governor’s signature to parole inmates sentenced to life. In the last two decades, no Maryland governor has signed off on a parole board recommendation to release a lifer like Bowie who committed his crime before he turned 18.  Bowie has spent his 20s and 30s in prison, more time locked up than he was on the outside.

“My life experience stopped at 17,” Bowie, now 40, said in interviews from state prison in Hagerstown, Md., for attempted murder and robbery. “I needed to be punished for what I did and needed to have time to be corrected, but the rest of my life is overkill.  I’m not the same person I was.”

His case is one of four being considered this week by the state’s highest court in Annapolis in a challenge to the legality of the Maryland parole system.  Prison reform advocates say the system is unconstitutional because while the punishment in the cases involving juvenile offenders technically includes parole, the state hasn’t paroled any inmate in that position in more than 20 years.

The office of Attorney General Brian Frosh says Bowie’s sentence is legal and his challenge is premature.  He hasn’t been recommended for parole or formally denied release by any governor. “If they are unhappy with the way parole is implemented, their issue is with the executive branch,” said Frosh’s spokeswoman Raquel Coombs.

The question for the Maryland Court of Appeals is whether a young person can be sentenced to life without what advocates say is any realistic chance of parole. The outcome of the cases could affect an estimated 300 lifers locked up for crimes they committed as juveniles....

“The Supreme Court has been so clear and so forceful about how the landscape has changed,” said Sonia Kumar of the American Civil Liberties Union, an attorney challenging Maryland’s parole system in a separate federal case. “There really isn’t any excuse for why Maryland is still operating the way it is and denying people who were sent to prison as kids any hope of relief no matter how thoroughly they’ve turned their lives around,” she said.

The Maryland attorney general’s office says the fact that parole on life sentences is infrequent and has declined “is not proof of a constitutional violation” but rather “proof, perhaps, of changes in the way that governors and parole commissioners exercise their discretion, but nothing more.”

Inmates with life sentences with the possibility of parole must serve at least 15 years before being considered for release. Parole commissioners, appointed by the governor, review records, notify victims and interview the prisoner before making a recommendation to the governor, who must act within 180 days.  In Bowie’s case, the parole board recommended him for a rehearing after his first review in 2007.  Changes to the system, the attorney general’s office says, must come from the legislature or the governor. But legislation to take the governor — and politics — out of the parole process, proposed again this session, has been stymied for years in part because of opposition from elected state prosecutors.

Between 1969 and 1994, three Maryland governors paroled 181 lifers. As governor, Parris N. Glendening in 1995 said resolutely he would sign no paroles in life-term cases, standing in front of a state prison to announce: “A life sentence means life.” In the following two decades, court records show none were paroled. Governors rejected recommendations on 24 lifers — juveniles and adults — without explanation.

More recently, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has approved parole for two adult inmates sentenced to life.  Like each governor since Glendening, he also has used separate clemency powers to reduce prison sentences and bring early release for a small number of lifers.  But reform advocates say acts based on prerogative do not fix an unconstitutional life sentence or the parole system.

“Not only is the governor not bound by any standards or forced to consider any particular factors, but the governor is not required in any way to explain his decision,” said James Johnston, director of the Youth Resentencing Project within the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, which has brought dozens of court challenges throughout the state, including Bowie’s.

The three other cases before the appeals court this week involve crimes committed by teenagers who are now serving life and in one case a term of 100 years: a 1989 home invasion in Prince George’s County that resulted in three deaths; a 1999 murder in Baltimore; and a 2004 shooting outside Randallstown High School that paralyzed a student.

February 5, 2018 at 12:53 PM | Permalink

Comments

Consider parole after 40 years confinement .
It worked for Leopold .

Posted by: Docile the Wimpy Terrorist In OR | Feb 5, 2018 7:09:47 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB