In re Shaputis Analysis and Outcome

The California Supreme Court's decision in Shaputis provided a counterpoint to In re Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1181, and explained how the egregious nature of the commitment offense could combine with other evidence to demonstrate the prisoner's current dangerousness despite the passage of a long period of time, thereby supporting a decision to deny parole. Shaputis murdered his second wife by firing a single shot from a handgun into her neck at close range. (In re Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1241 at pp. 1247-1248.) Shaputis claimed that the shooting was an accident, which the evidence overwhelmingly refuted. (Shaputis, at p. 1249.) He had a long history of domestic violence, including violence against his first wife and daughters, and many years of violent abuse of, and threats toward, his second wife prior to her death. (Shaputis, at pp. 1246-1247.) His prior criminal conduct included a sexual assault on his daughter. (Shaputis, at p. 1248.) Shaputis also had a history of alcohol abuse and was intoxicated on the night of the murder. Although he acknowledged being an alcoholic, "he considers himself to be a 'mellow . . . outgoing' drinker." (Shaputis, at pp. 1247-1248.) Shaputis remained discipline-free throughout his incarceration, but psychological reports indicated that there was a "'schizoid quality to his interpersonal relationships.'" (Shaputis, at pp. 1249-1250, 1251.) The Board denied parole in 2004 based on the egregiousness of the offense and his history of unstable relationships. (Shaputis, supra, 44 Cal.4th at pp. 1250-1251) However, he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, and the Court of Appeal ordered a new hearing at which the Board could base a denial of parole only on new or different evidence. The Board then reluctantly granted parole. The Governor reversed. The basis for the Governor's reversal was his finding that Shaputis remained a danger to society due to the aggravated nature of the crime, which included premeditation, and his lack of insight into both the murder and the years of domestic violence that preceded the murder. (Shaputis, at pp. 1251-1253, 1255.) The Court of Appeal granted Shaputis's writ petition, and the California Supreme Court granted review. (Shaputis, at pp. 1253-1254.) On review, the California Supreme Court reiterated the In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616, standard of review that it had applied in Lawrence. "When a court reviews the record for some evidence supporting the Governor's conclusion that a petitioner currently poses an unreasonable risk to public safety, it will affirm the Governor's interpretation of the evidence so long as that interpretation is reasonable and reflects due consideration of all relevant statutory factors." (Shaputis, supra, 44 Cal.4th at p. 1258.) The court distinguished Lawrence. "This is not a case, like Lawrence, supra, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1225, in which the commitment offense was an isolated incident, committed while petitioner was subject to emotional stress that was unusual or unlikely to recur. Instead, the murder was the culmination of many years of petitioner's violent and brutalizing behavior toward the victim, his children, and his previous wife. The record establishes, moreover, that although petitioner has stated that his conduct was 'wrong,' and feels some remorse for the crime, he has failed to gain insight or understanding into either his violent conduct or his commission of the commitment offense. Evidence concerning the nature of the weapon, the location of ammunition found at the crime scene, and petitioner's statement that he had a 'little fight' with his wife support the view that he killed his wife intentionally, but as the record also demonstrates, petitioner still claims the shooting was an accident. This claim, considered with evidence of petitioner's history of domestic abuse and recent psychological reports reflecting that his character remains unchanged and that he is unable to gain insight into his antisocial behavior despite years of therapy and rehabilitative 'programming', all provide some evidence in support of the Governor's conclusion that petitioner remains dangerous and is unsuitable for parole." (Shaputis, at pp. 1259-1260.)