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December 15, 2008

Notable little Fifth Circuit ruling on constitutional requirements for back-end sentencing decisions

Especially in light of renewed interest in second-look sentencing issues and also the modern revolution of sentencing procedures, the Fifth Circuit's recent decision in Boss vs. Quarterman, No. 07-50448 (5th Cir. Dec. 12, 2008) (available here) merits some attention.  Here is how the little opinion begins and ends:

Texas state prisoner Jackie Lynn Boss, serving a 10-year sentence for intoxication assault, appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.  Boss sought federal review of the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole's June 2005 decision to deny him “mandatory supervision” release.  The parole panel's decision listed statutory reasons for the denial but did not offer any evidence from the record to support its findings.  Boss argues due process requires more.  We granted a certificate of appealability on the question of whether Superintendent v. Hill requires the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to give reasons for denying mandatory supervision that are supported by "some evidence."  We AFFIRM the denial of the writ by the district court....

We find no persuasive reason to conclude that Hill supplanted Greenholtz.  The Hill opinion made no reference to Greenholtz, a strong implication that parole board decisions on good-time credits and on mandatory supervision make distinct draws upon due process.  Moreover, the Supreme Court continues to rely on Greenholtz after Hill.  In a case considering the due process required to transfer a prisoner to a supermax facility, the Court stated "[w]here the inquiry draws more on the experience of prison administrators . . . the informal, nonadversary procedures set forth in Greenholtz . . . provide the appropriate model."

Denying mandatory supervision and revoking good-time credits are distinct deprivations for which the Supreme Court has prescribed different constitutional protections.  We cannot find that Hill's “some evidence” requirement clearly established the due process requirements for denials of mandatory supervision.  Rather, Greenholtz continues to define the procedural protections due before a state denies a prisoner conditional release.

December 15, 2008 at 09:35 AM | Permalink


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Curious whether this creates/extends a circuit split with the Ninth, which I think has been a bit more willing to scrutinize parole board decisions under the Due Process Clause? (Sorry not to be more specific/informative; not at a place where I can quickly pull up previous Ninth Circuit caselaw...)

Posted by: Observer | Dec 15, 2008 10:42:55 AM

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