Nice decision out of the Fourth Dist. Ct. of Appeal this afternoon. In In Re Adam Sanchez, the Court granted a petition for habeas relief after the Board of Parole hearings denied him parole in 2010, allegedly because he “minimized” his involvement with the crime.
Writing for the Court, Justice Richard Aronson found ” Here, the Board denied Sanchez parole on grounds he minimized his role in the offense and his gang at that time, thereby demonstrating ongoing ‘criminal thinking that is actually fortified or reaffirmed within the gang culture that, you know, you try to avoid responsibility, shirk your responsibility . . . .’ The Board found Sanchez posed a current risk of danger if released while still in the throes of this ‘criminal mentality,’ and also found Sanchez’s unstable social history and the nature of the commitment offense made him unsuitable for parole.”
While this might be within the Board’s discretion, what troubled the Sanchez Court was how the Board got there.
“The Board, however, reached these conclusions by enshrining the appellate opinion on direct review as ‘the official record that is recognized . . . not only by this Panel,’ but also ‘past Panels [and] future Panels . . . .’ The Board erred in requiring ‘official record’ fealty…but, more importantly, the discrepancies between Sanchez’s account and the appellate opinion did not evidence continuing dangerousness. The Board reasoned that because Sanchez denied the so-called official account, he was shirking his responsibility for his offense and his gang entrenchment, and his lack of insight therefore posed a continuing threat to public safety.” (Internal citations ommitted; emphasis added).
Stripped of judicial prolixity. the case frames in bas relief the difficulty with seeking parole for individuals convicted of serious crimes. If the prisoner or the advocate admit everything the People have alleged about them is true, they are virtually asking the Board to deny them parole. If they attempt to posit a different narrative, they run the risk of the Board accusing them of “minimizing” their criminal history, as occurred with Mr. Sanchez.
As Justice Aronson reminded the Board–and all of us–the Legislature imposed statutory obligations on the Board to prevent it from doing that.
“By statute, the Board “shall not require, when setting parole dates, an admission of guilt to any crime for which an inmate was committed.” (§ 5011, subd. (b).) Similarly, “an inmate need not agree or adopt the official version of a crime in order to demonstrate insight and remorse.” (In re Twinn (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 447, 466 (Twinn); accord, In re Aguilar (2008) 168 Cal.App.4th 1479, 1491 [no requirement that prisoner must “‘admit his guilt or change his story to be found suitable for parole by the Board’”].) These rules follow from ‘the fundamental consideration in parole decisions,’ which is ‘public safety’” (Emphasis added).