Parker v. Gorczyk
In Parker v. Gorczyk, 170 Vt. 263, 744 A.2d 410 (1999), the plaintiffs sought to enjoin the Department of Corrections (DOC) from implementing a policy that would make prisoners convicted of violent felonies ineligible for furlough until the expiration of their minimum sentences.
Prior to the promulgation of that policy, all prisoners, including those convicted of violent felonies, were entitled to an individualized furlough assessment-a discretionary decision-prior to the expiration of their minimum sentences.
Declining to rely on the Supreme Court's use of legal catch-words - such as the "atypical and significant hardship" phrase relied on in Conner - to assess when claimed interests required procedural due process protections, we explained that, under the Vermont Constitution, the determination of whether due process protections are required in a specific case entails "a fact-sensitive examination of the particular circumstances involved, including consideration of the nature and significance of the interest at stake, the potential impact of any decision resulting in a deprivation of that interest, and the role that procedural protections might play in such a decision." (Id. at, 744 A.2d at 417.)
The Court first concluded that the plaintiffs' interest in the possibility of obtaining furlough prior to the expiration of their minimum sentences was "sharply limited," stating: Plaintiffs are concerned with obtaining eligibility for furlough rather than maintaining an already realized conditional freedom. Conceding that they are not necessarily entitled to furlough, plaintiffs ask only for individual furlough assessments that may or may not result in their obtaining furlough.
As Judge Henry Friendly cogently noted, "there is a human difference between losing what one has and not getting what one wants." Without deciding whether revocation of furlough implicates due process protections under the Vermont Constitution, we conclude that plaintiffs' anticipation of furlough is a less significant interest than if they were defending against revocation of furlough. (Id. at, 744 A.2d at 417.)
Second, in examining the potential impact of any decision resulting in the deprivation of the alleged interest, we found the plaintiffs' argument that prisoners who attained furlough status had a better chance for parole to be speculative and unsupported by the evidence presented below. See id. at, 744 A.2d at 418.
Finally, with regard to the role that procedural protections might play, we noted that, while the policy would deny furlough to those violent offenders who could be reintegrated successfully, it also assured that those who were not ready for community reintegration would not be mistakenly released.
As the Court stated: " 'There simply is no constitutional guarantee that all executive decisionmaking must comply with standards that assure error-free determinations.' Id.