Parole Letter – June 2011

 

This letter is written in an effort to continue to keep inmates updated on the current issues regarding parole and parole related matters, as well as to address some of the repetitive questions asked in the letters I receive from the inmate population.

Bills Passed by Texas Legislature 2011:

 

The following is a list of the Bills enacted and signed into law by the 85th Texas Legislature in 2011. All these laws were passed by the Texas Legislature and have been sent to the Governor to be signed and will be effective September 2011, unless otherwise stated. Because of the legislative impasse that occurred between the Republican and Democratic Legislatures, most Bills dealing with criminal justice matters never made it to the floor and therefore did not become law.

 

 

HB #200  TDCJ must notify Social Security, SSI, Social Security Disability Insurance, upon an inmate being confined and released on parole, discretionary mandatory release, or discharged from prison. TDCJ must also notify the sheriff, district attorney, judge of county in which the inmate is released if the inmate is a member of a threat group upon that inmates release from prison.
HB #1770

 

The state may pay a halfway house for inmates who are placed at the halfway house no more than the actual cost to keep the inmate incarcerated. The key word is may. This will only occur if there is sufficient funds in which to do this.
HB #1940

 

This Bill entitles a parolee to a preliminary hearing if a motion to revoke parole is filed. The only exception to the requirement to grant a parolee a preliminary hearing is if the parolee waves (gives up this right in writing) or if the motion to revoke parole concerns only administrative violations.
HB #2004

 

This Bill allows the sale of the Central Unit by TDCJ. No other TDCJ units will be closed except the Central Unit contrary to the rumor going around that TDCJ would be closing more units and inmates would be released because of those closings.
HB #2124

 

This Bill provides victims must be notified if a defendant is acquitted by reason of insanity in any criminal case.
HB #2649

 

This Bill only deals with inmates who have been sent to a state jail facility for a state jail charge. An inmate may be awarded diligent participation credits to reduce down the amount of time the inmate would be incarcerated if the inmate has served 80% of his/her sentence.
HB #2734

 

This Bill makes it easier to revoke illegal criminal aliens on parole who reenter the United States after being deported.
HB #2735

 

This Bill allows the Parole Division the possibility of issuing a summons for a parole revocation hearing instead of issuing a blue warrant and incarcerating a parolee until there is a hearing and decision on a parole revocation. There is a very limited ability to issue such a summons. The parolee cannot be on intensive supervision, cannot be an absconder, and there must be a finding the individual is not a threat to the public safety.
SB #315

 

This Bill sets up an agency to compile and maintain information on prison gang members and criminal street gang members.

Bills that Failed to Pass the 2011 Texas Legislature:

 

There have been rumors circulating amongst the inmate population regarding the passage of some of these Bills. These are included in this letter to help stop the rumors. I realize it is difficult to live in prison without hope, but to place your hope in ridiculous rumors is to actually have no hope at all. You might tell someone who is relaying yet another rumor to you and purporting to make it easier to leave prison other than through parole this: I will believe you when all of the other rumors you have told me come true.

With over 2000 Bills proposed in this Legislature there was not one Bill proposed to reduce down the mandatory requirement to serve one half of your sentence if you are convicted of a 3g offense.

 

HB #3763 & #3538 Release to super intensive parole or intensive supervision inmates who have reached 65-years of age and have serious medical conditions. These Bills did not become law.
HB #694 This Bill would have allowed release from TDCJ of certain inmates who have completed rehabilitation programs and require the parole panel to set certain dates of release. This Bill did not become law.
HB #886 & #1477 These Bills would have required the state to allow retention of Good Time of parolees who have served time on mandatory supervision and parole and it could not be forfeited. These Bills did not become law.
HB #1220 This Bill would have allowed TDCJ to restore forfeited Good Time. This Bill did not become law.
HB #1299 This Bill would have required the Parole Board to release inmates who served 90% of their sentence or who were within one-year of completing their sentence. This Bill did not become law.
HB #2412 This Bill would have set forth mandatory supervision for certain drug possession offenses. This Bill did not become law.
HB #3340 This Bill provided a Warden could make recommendations to a parole panel regarding an inmate’s eligibility for parole. This Bill did not become law.

 

Parole Board Policy Changes for Coleman/Mesa Hearings:

The Federal Courts have ruled inmates who are not charged with a crime that is per se a sexual crime must have a hearing in which the state must prove by a preponderance of the evidence there is a need to place Special Condition X on the inmates parole certificate or to require him to register as a sex offender. It appears the Parole Board will be granting these hearings not only to offenders who are subject to being released on parole, but to those parolees who were released to parole or mandatory or discretionary mandatory supervision and these conditions were placed on them without allowing them to have a Coleman/Mesa Hearing previously. This was also reiterated in Ex Parte Evans by the Court of Criminal Appeals of the State of Texas. Both of these rulings indicate the inmate will have to retain counsel since no attorneys will be appointed to represent the inmate in these matters and these conditions cannot be placed on an inmate prior to such a hearing. Recently a Federal Court in Houston issued an order to that effect for one of my clients. It is my understanding the Parole Board and TDCJ is in the process of training these hearing officers in setting up policies and procedures for these type of hearings. As of the date of this letter these policies and procedures have not been published.

United States Supreme Court Decisions:

The Supreme Court of the United States in April 2011 in Schwarzenegger v. Plata #09-1233 ruled the California penal system is overcrowded to the point that it is in violation of the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately for inmates in California, the Supreme Court has allowed the State of California two additional years in which to rectify this matter and submit their new plan to the court. Presently, the California Legislature is proposing instead of releasing inmates back to society the California Legislature is considering placing inmates in county facilities to serve out their sentences. At this time there is no decision by the California Legislature as to how they will comply with this ruling. At the present time there is no lawsuit filed in the State of Texas alleging the present prison system in the State of Texas is so overcrowded as to be in violation of the Constitution. Should this ever occur it will take approximately 8 to 10 years before it is litigated to the Supreme Court of the United States, so I would not recommend any inmate start a rumor regarding the Texas prison system being required to release any inmates. If you hear of such a rumor you have now been informed it is false.

Changes in The Parole Board:

Marsha Moberely was been appointed to the Amarillo Parole Board in 2010 as a Parole Board Commissioner. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, has 12-years experience in criminal justice with nine-years experience in juvenile justice.

Charles Aycock is a Parole Board Member and his term expired in 2011. He has informed me he will not be seeking reappointment and a new Parole Board Member will be appointed to the Amarillo Parole Board. As of the date of this letter, there has been no one appointed to take Mr. Aycock’s place and he is still a voting member.

Rumors:

(1) There is a persistent rumor TDCJ will have to close down seven or more prison units because of budgetary problems. The only unit that is being closed is the Central Unit and that is not being closed immediately. There will not be a release of inmates due to prison closings. The Parole Board is still the only way, short of serving out your complete sentence, of being released from prison. If you hear a rumor the Legislature passed some law regarding prisoners, parolees, or inmates, you should be advised that the Texas Legislature will not meet again until the year 2013. The Texas Legislature only meets every two-years so there will be no new laws passed between now and 2013.

(2) As I previously explained in the section dealing with Bills that were not passed and enacted into law, the rumor circulating throughout the prison system about a change in the law on 3g or aggravated cases is not true. The Legislature has not changed the law regarding parole eligibility for 3g or aggravated cases. An inmate convicted of a 3g or aggravated case or having an affirmative finding of the use of a deadly weapon will have to serve one-half of their sentence day for day before they will be eligible for parole.

(3) I have received numerous phone calls in which family members have been informed by the inmate rumor mill that the Legislature passed a law in which inmates will be released upon serving one-third of their sentence. There was no such Bill ever introduced and as far as I can see, there is no factual basis for this rumor. THERE WAS NEVER A BILL ADDRESSING THIS AT ALL.

MY ATTORNEY REPRESENTATION & WHY I MUST BE HIRED A LONG TIME BEFORE THE ELIGIBILITY DATE:

 

Personally, I do not believe any attorney should tell an inmate they need to remain incarcerated longer so as to serve 70% – 80% of their sentence making them better candidates for release to parole before hiring me. I believe it is my job to start working with my clients in an effort to convince the Parole Board to release him/her to parole as soon as possible. Once I am retained to represent an individual some of the things I require my clients to do are: (1) sign release of information forms to be utilized to acquire documentation retained by various agencies regarding criminal history and other records;(2) evaluate the information I acquire (3) answer a lengthy questionnaire and return it to my office and then (4) prepare the parole package empathizing my clients accomplishments and pointing out to the Parole Board members mitigating information about the crime or my clients actions . I also evaluate the information acquired regarding my client and suggest various rehabilitative courses for him/her to participate in so as to enhance his/her ability to receive parole when reviewed by the Parole Board .If the Parole Board members believe my client has committed a crime because of some perceived notation on the part of the board member then I recommend a course of action on my clients part to change this perception. Once all of the requested information is acquired from the client and various agencies is received at my office, it is evaluated and a argument for release is prepared and included within the parole package which usually consists of 30 to 40 pages and is sent to the Parole Board office (copies are also sent to the inmate and the individual who has paid for my services). I then file an attorney appearance request at the appropriate time with the assigned Parole Board office requesting permission to argue in my client’s behalf before the assigned Parole Board member. Afterwards, I send a summary of my oral argument with the Parole Board member. Once the inmate’s file has been voted on, I notify my client of the Parole Board’s decision. If my client is granted release to parole, I offer my assistance to help him/her to make certain he/she understands his/her parole requirements to help make his/her time on parole easier and attempt to assure that my client is not revoked and returned to prison. This is time consuming and requires time to evaluate this information, prepare arguments in writing and for oral presentation. I do not believe a 3 page letter and a few support letters and an employment letter will change a parole members mind or alter the board members perception of an inmate. If an inmate is released with this type of information then the inmate would have been released anyway.

 Every inmate is eventually going to be reviewed by the Board. If you want to hire me, I must have time to perform my job. I must be hired a long time before the inmate’s eligibility date so I can do what needs to be done such as help prepare an inmate to be a good candidate for release to parole, gather the needed information and prepare the written documentation to be submitted to the Board, and to argue in behalf of my client before the Board if granted an appearance.

All inmates will receive a parole eligibility date. About six (6) months before that eligibility date, the inmate’s file for TDCJ-ID goes into review status. Review Status means that the TDCJ-ID file will begin traveling through the different offices to be prepared for the Parole Board Members before it is sent to them. When an inmate’s file goes into review status it is pulled out of the regular file cabinet in Austin and it begins to travel to the different offices for the many things that have to be done. The review status should be completed about 2 to 3 months before it is sent to the Parole Board Office. Once the Parole Board receives the file, the file is then assigned to a first voting Board Member and then it is voted on. There is no exact formula for calculating when the review process will be complete or when the file will be sent to and voted on by the Board Members which is why I begin tracking my client’s files about 6 months before the eligibility date to make sure where they are. This is why I must be hired a long time before the inmate’s file goes into review status and a long time before the eligibility date.

The following is only an example of the time frame that it would take for a file to go through the system:

EXAMPLE:

Eligibility Date                    File In Review Status                        Probable Voting Period

January 1, 2010                 July 1, 2009                                      November 1, 2009 – January 1, 2010

The above example shows that the inmate’s file had an eligibility date of January 1, 2010. Six months before that eligibility date, July 1, 2009, it is placed in review status. Around November 1, 2009, it is then sent to the Board Members to be voted on and the vote should be completed by or before January 1, 2010.

It is too late for me to do my job if you wait to hire me once the file goes into review status.

Time Payment Plan:

If you decide to hire me and do so well in advance of your eligibility date, I can design a time payment plan for your family or loved ones, but I must be paid in full before I submit the parole package or request an appearance before the Parole Board, which is normally submitted 3 to 4 months prior to the parole review date. The time payment plan has been very helpful to many of my clients who have limited financial resources and thereby allowed them to hire me without causing them financial distress because they hired me many months or even years in advance. If you wait until the last minute, the entire fee is going to be due immediately.

Please do not send any of your documentation to me prior to retaining me.

New Associates in my Office:

Johnny Papantonakis and Greg Tsioros are associates in my office who are great assets. They have represented individuals on some very difficult criminal matters and have been successful in having the cases dismissed or received favorable decisions from the jury. For individuals who do not have the financial means to hire me to represent them, my associates may be able to represent individuals for less than I would charge.

Sincerely,

 James Randall Smith
Attorney at Law