Can a parole board change its decision?

Parole boards decide whether prisoners will be released on parole, and in general, they may reconsider their decisions. If new, relevant information comes to light or there is other just cause, boards may be able to:

  • change parole conditions for parolees
  • send parolees back behind bars or keep them there with revocation of a parole order
  • grant parole to prisoners to whom they have previously denied it, or
  • provide prisoners awaiting parole release earlier release dates.

State law determines when and how a parole board may reconsider its decisions. In general, to modify any decision, the board must have just cause to reopen or conduct a new hearing. In other words, parole boards may reconsider their previous decisions, but only if they have valid reasons to do so.

There typically isn’t a single factor that constitutes just cause. It can arise from a clerical error, such as the wrong release date entered on an official form. Other scenarios can give rise to just cause, including discovery of new information and  parole violations.

(For more on the parole decision-making process, see Eligibility for Parole.)

New Information

New information may work for or against an inmate or parolee. For example, a parole board might discover that it didn’t provide a statutorily required opportunity for the victims of the inmate’s crime to address the board. In this case, it may reopen the matter to allow the testimony and hear from the prisoner (or his counsel). Then it might affirm, modify, or rescind the original parole decision.

In general, parole boards conduct reopened hearings by the same procedures involved in original hearings. So, in the example above, there would likely be an opportunity to address evidence that opposes the prisoner’s release. The prisoner would normally receive the same opportunity when faced with information about his case that the board overlooked or didn’t have when making its original decision.

Governors Stepping In

Some states have statutes that allow the governor to compel the parole board to reconsider its prior decision. To take advantage of this power, the governor must comply with certain procedures. But even if the governor doesn’t, the board may still be able to reopen the case.

For example, in one California case, the Governor requested that the Board of Prison Terms review a grant of parole to an inmate because of public safety concerns and the gravity of the inmate’s offenses. The governor hadn’t requested reconsideration at least 90 days before the prisoner’s release date, which is what the relevant statute required. The appeals court held that the Board didn’t  have  to reconsider the parole grant because of the missed deadline, but that it was still free to do so. (In re Johnson, 8 Cal.App.4th 618 (1992).)

Parole Violations

Parole violations are another form of just cause that allows a board to hold a new hearing and change existing parole conditions or send the parolee back to prison.

If a parole boards imposes additional or harsher conditions on someone released from prison absent a parole violation, the parolee may have a viable argument that there’s been a  double jeopardy  violation. In one Florida case on  probation, for example, an appeals court held that, without a probation violation, a modification of a probation condition that is more restrictive than the original condition can’t stand. That’s because, according to the court, the more restrictive modification violates the double jeopardy prohibition against multiple punishments for the same offense. (Loncar v. State, 27 So.3d 200 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2010).)

But in one federal case, a judge modified the defendant’s conditions of  supervised release  to bar employment with an attorney or law firm. An appeals court held that the defendant’s circumstances had changed after his sentencing for  wire fraud, and that gave the judge the authority to modify the conditions appropriately. (United States v. Smith, 445 F.3d 713 (3d Cir. 2006).)

Find Out More

Parole law varies by state, and this article isn’t an exhaustive discussion of the law. If you have questions about parole or want to know how the law applies to you, consider speaking with a qualified lawyer. A knowledgeable lawyer will be able to more fully explain the law and procedures, and can advise you about any opportunity to seek a change in a parole decision.

In addition, most state parole boards have websites with state-specific information on parole procedures. You can enter “[your state] parole board” or similar terms into your Internet search engine to find out more. Some nonprofit and other government websites may also provide helpful information.

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