The purpose of parole is to allow a person to serve part of their sentence under the supervision of the community. It’s only granted to convicted prisoners who have substantially observed the rules of the prison, whose release would not undermine the seriousness of the offense and would not jeopardize public welfare.
The idea is to prevent needless imprisonment and to help former prisoners get re-established in the community under strict controls, so as to prevent further offense.
In Alabama, the issue of prison overcrowding has resulted in the proposal of a new bill,which recently progressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would increase the number of offenders who are eligible parole. The parole rate in 2009 (those prisoners granted parole by the state) was 42 percent. It was down to 36 percent by 2013. Drafters of the bill say the problem is parole board members cherry-pick parolees.
But part of that bill to widen access to parole would also increase punishments for those who violate it. For example, those who miss an appointment with a parole officer would immediately go to jail for several days, rather than waiting months to go back to prison.
When offenders are accused of parole violations, our Birmingham criminal defense lawyersknow the consequences can be severe. It can even result in a reinstatement of the full prior sentence, which could mean a defendant could return to prison for years for a seemingly minor offense. Defendants are entitled to legal counsel in these proceedings, and it’s critical that they avail themselves of this right.
Take for example the recent Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals case of Morris v. Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles. According to court records, defendant was originally convicted of two counts of second-degree robbery and a single count of first-degree assault. He was sentenced to life in prison for each conviction.
However, he was paroled in early 2009.
While on parole, he was arrested in Birmingham and charged with a new offense of second-degree robbery. His parole officer filed a parole violation report, alleging he’d committed a new offense and recommending his parole be revoked.
At a parole revocation hearing, the state provided testimony from a Birmingham Police Department officer on the alleged new crime. The board revoked his parole.
Defendant appealed, arguing the only witness presented by the state had conceded he had no personal knowledge of the events that formed the basis for his new charges. Therefore, he asserted, the parole revocation decision was based solely on hearsay.
Defendant’s petition was denied by the circuit court and he appealed to the appellate court. He reasserted the evidence used to revoke his parole was inefficient. The appeals court agreed, finding the decision was based solely on hearsay from the officer.
The court noted that while hearsay can be admitted to evidence in parole revocation hearings, it may not be the sole basis for revoking one’s parole. The reason is that it denies defendant the right to confront and cross-examine the person or sources from which the factual information was derived – which is considered one of the minimum requirements in these proceedings.
Thus, the decision was reversed and the case remanded for another hearing.