Landmark California Cases Dealing With Parole Decision Review

In In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616 at page 658, the court set forth the standard that is required when reviewing a parole decision. That is, whether some evidence in the record before the Board or the Governor supports the decision to deny parole based on appropriate factors set out in the above discussed regulations and statutes. The In re Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1181, court reaffirmed this analysis, but also recognized "courts have struggled to strike an appropriate balance between deference to the Board and the Governor and meaningful review of parole decisions. A growing tension has emerged in the decisions regarding the precise contours of the 'some evidence' standard of review." (In re Lawrence, supra, 44 Cal.4th at p. 1206.) In re Lawrence (2008) clarified that "when a court reviews a decision of the Board or the Governor, the relevant inquiry is whether some evidence supports the decision of the Board or the Governor that the inmate constitutes a current threat to public safety, and not merely whether some evidence confirms the existence of certain factual findings. " (In re Lawrence, supra, 44 Cal.4th at p. 1212.) As the court further stated, "It is not the existence or nonexistence of suitability or unsuitability factors that forms the crux of the parole decision; the significant circumstance is how those factors interrelate to support a conclusion of current dangerousness to the public." (Ibid.) Moreover, as the court further explained in In re Shaputis (2008) 44 Cal.4th 1241, the companion case issued on the same day as Lawrence, that "the aggravated nature of a commitment offense does not, in every case, provide relevant evidence that an inmate remains dangerous, and a focus upon the egregiousness of the commitment offense to the exclusion of other relevant evidence has proved in practice to obscure the core statutory emphasis upon current dangerousness ... ." (Id. at p. 1254.) Accordingly, " 'the relevant inquiry is whether the circumstances of the commitment offense, when considered in light of other facts in the record, are such that they continue to be predictive of current dangerousness many years after commission of the offense. This inquiry is, by necessity and by statutory mandate, an individualized one, and cannot be undertaken simply by examining the circumstances of the crime in isolation, without consideration of the passage of time or the attendant changes in the inmate's psychological or mental attitude. ' " (Id. at pp. 1254-1255.) In In re Ramirez (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 549, the appellate court concluded the Board of Prison Terms had erred by failing to consider the proportionality of an inmate's sentence in relation to the determinate term prescribed for his crimes, or the gravity of his offenses as compared with other similar offenses. " Ramirez also concluded that the trial court erred by making its own evaluation of the evidence before the Board and by ordering the Board to set a parole date. Ramirez explained, "In deference to the Board's broad discretion over parole suitability decisions, courts should refrain from reweighing the evidence, and should be reluctant to direct a particular result. The Board must be given every opportunity to lawfully exercise its discretion over Ramirez's parole application." (Ramirez, supra, 94 Cal.App.4th at p. 572.) Therefore, it reversed the trial court's order and directed the Board to conduct another parole suitability hearing conforming to specific legal guidelines. (Ibid.) Although the proportionality aspects of the Ramirez decision were later disapproved by In re Dannenberg (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1061 at pages 1070-1071, the remedy was not. Ramirez's conclusion that the Board must be given every opportunity to lawfully exercise its discretion over the parole decision is persuasive and the remedy it crafted is applicable where, as in this case, the Board's decision was based upon a flawed methodology. (See, e.g., In re Rico (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 659 at p. 688.)