Parole Suitability Cases In California
The Board of Prison Terms is authorized by statute to determine parole suitability, and to exercise its discretion in deciding whether to grant or deny parole. ( Pen. Code, 3040, 5075 et seq.; In re Fain (1983) 145 Cal. App. 3d 540, 548 193 Cal. Rptr. 483.)
That discretion, although broad, is not absolute, and the Board's decisions must be supported by "some evidence." (In re Powell (1988) 45 Cal. 3d 894, 902-904 248 Cal. Rptr. 431, 755 P.2d 881; see also Terhune v. Superior Court (1998) 65 Cal. App. 4th 864, 872-873 76 Cal. Rptr. 2d 841; In re Minnis (1972) 7 Cal. 3d 639, 646-647 102 Cal. Rptr. 749, 498 P.2d 997 although a prisoner serving an indeterminate sentence is "not entitled to have his term fixed at less than the maximum or to receive parole, he is entitled to have his application for these benefits 'duly considered' ".
The Board of Prison Terms is required to determine parole suitability according to the guidelines set out in section 2402. We address those guidelines seriatim.
Subdivision (a) of section 2402 provides that, "regardless of the length of time served, a life prisoner shall be found unsuitable for and denied parole if in the judgment of the panel the prisoner will pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison."
Subdivision (b) of section 2402 directs the panel to consider "all relevant, reliable information available" to it, including "the circumstances of the prisoner's social history; past and present mental state; past criminal history, including involvement in other criminal misconduct which is reliably documented; the base and other commitment offenses, including behavior before, during and after the crime; past and present attitude toward the crime; any conditions of treatment or control, including the use of special conditions under which the prisoner may safely be released to the community; and any other information which bears on the prisoner's suitability for release.
Circumstances which taken alone may not firmly establish unsuitability for parole may contribute to a pattern which results in a finding of unsuitability."
Subdivision (c) of section 2402 sets forth the "circumstances tending to show unsuitability" for release. With regard to the commitment offense, the Board may consider whether "the prisoner committed the offense in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner."
In determining whether the commitment offense was "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," the Board may consider whether there were multiple victims, whether "the offense was carried out in a dispassionate and calculated manner, such as an execution-style murder," whether "the victim was abused, defiled or mutilated during or after the offense," whether "the offense was carried out in a manner which demonstrates an exceptionally callous disregard for human suffering," and whether the "motive for the crime is inexplicable or very trivial in relation to the offense."