Friday, May 18, 2012

In Re Hunter (Cal. Ct. App. - May 18, 2012)


It's another murder case in which the petitioner has been denied parole after spending several decades in prison.  The Court of Appeal concludes that there's no evidence to support the denial of parole, and hence reverses and remands.

Maybe that's right.  It's certainly possible.  It's not like the California Board of Parole Hearings is very inmate-friendly, after all.  Especially in murder cases.

But in this particular case, I don't know.  I have a sense that the Board might well have been right.

Admittedly, I can't see the guy.  (Though neither can the Court of Appeal.)  Maybe if I'd have seen how he testified and how he handled himself, I'd be persuaded that he really has changed from the person who was heavily freebasing cocaine in the early 80s and who stabbed an eight-month pregnant woman to death to try to get some more cocaine.  He's been in prison for 27 years now, and I'm sure that's changed him.  For the better, most likely.  At around 50, your penchant for senseless killing has probably decreased.  And perhaps your appetite for cocaine as well.

But still.  It's possible that's not the case.  It's possible that once he gets out of prison, he'll go back to hitting the pipe.  And worse.

I like that he's been largely discipline-free while in prison.  I'm not worried about his ability to handle a structured environment.  It's an unstructured one that concerns me.  Plus, I'm profoundly troubled by his refusal to report to work -- and subsequent discipline -- in 2008.  Maybe his story is right and he was worried about violence.  But it's also possible that this isn't the real reason, and he just decided that he was able to decide for himself what's wrong and what's right.  Like his two write-ups twenty years earlier for similar refusals to comply with orders.  Someone who thinks like that reminds me of the person who twenty five years ago decided that he was able to decide for himself whether a pregnant woman and her fetus deserved to live.  The fact that his description of the crime may also continue to be a bit shady heightens these concerns.

So this may be one of those cases where actually looking at someone matters.  Potentially a lot.  And makes me more likely to defer.

On the other hand, the fact that he won't be eligible for another parole hearing for seven years -- when he's 60 or so -- starts to lean me the other way.  That seems too long.  There are, in fact, real reasons to think that he has changed.  Leaving him in prison for nearly another decade without even the possibility of letting him make his case seems unjust.

This may be a case where the harshness of a procedural rule makes one less likely to defer to a harsh result.  Even if the latter might perhaps be justified.

In the end, I don't know.  I just don't know.  Probably he'll be totally fine once let out.  Probably.

Which is a big caveat.