CAPPS has long worked to address the parole review procedures that have kept parolable lifers incarcerated past their first parole eligibility dates, regardless of their current risk to public safety. Among these is the ability of a successor to the sentencing judge to prevent the board from paroling a lifer by simply saying, “I object.”
HB 5273, introduced by Rep. Dave Pagel and cosponsored by Rep. Martin Howrylak, would limit judicial vetoes of lifer paroles to the original sentencing judges. The Michigan Judges Association supports the bill.
About a quarter of parolable lifers for whom the parole board sets a public hearing date are vetoed, primarily by successor judges. These judges have no personal knowledge of the case and get their information primarily from prosecutors or the presentencing report. As a result, the hearing is cancelled and the lifer is typically required to wait another five years before being considered again.
HB 5273 amends the corrections code as follows:
Parole shall not be granted if the sentencing judge files written objections to the granting of the parole within 30 days of receipt of the notice of hearing. But the sentencing judge’s written objections shall bar parole only if the sentencing judge is still in office in the court before which the prisoner was convicted and sentenced. A sentencing judge’s successor in office may file written objections to the granting of parole, but a successor judge’s objections shall not bar the granting of parole under subsection (7). If written objections are filed by either the sentencing judge or the judge’s successor in office, they shall be made part of the prisoner’s file.
Why action is needed:
The House Criminal Justice Committee members will hear testimony on the bill at 9 AM on two consecutive Tuesdays, April 12 and April 19. The hearings will be in Room 327, House Office Building, Lansing. (Note: Members of the Criminal Justice Committee are: Representatives Kurt Heise (C), Michael Webber (Maj. VC), Martin Howrylak, Peter Lucido, Gary Howell, Vanessa Guerra (Min. VC), Marcia Hovey-Wright, and Stephanie Chang.)
- Letters of support for HB 5273 from organizations emailed to Ben Eikey, legislative director for Rep. Pagel, at BEikey@house.mi.gov. We would appreciate it if you would copy Dena Anderson, at email@example.com. See sample letter, below. When the bill goes to the floor for a vote, we will ask for additional actions.
- If you plan to attend the hearing, cards indicating support can be submitted to the Committee clerk at the hearing.
- Messages of support may also be left for Mr. Eikey by phone at 517.373.1796. Again, we’d appreciate knowing if you are going on the record in support of the bill.
Please do not hesitate to email Dena Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have questions about the bill details or hearing.
Sample support letter:
The Honorable Dave Pagel
State Representative, State Capitol
PO Box 30014, Lansing, MI 48909-7514
RE: House Bill 5273, successor judge objections to lifer paroles
Dear Representative Pagel,
I am writing to express my support for House Bill 5273, which would eliminate the power of successor sentencing judges to override the judgment of the Michigan Parole Board. Currently, when the board choses to conduct a public hearing regarding the potential release of a prisoner serving a parolable life term, it must notify the sentencing judge or that judge’s successor and the prosecutor. If the sentencing or successor judge objects, the board loses its authority to grant release. HB 5273 would not change the notification process. Successor judges, like prosecutors and victims, would still have the opportunity to object to the person’s release. However, successor judges, unlike the original sentencing judge, would no longer have veto power.
There are hundreds of lifers who became eligible for parole after serving 10 years but have now served decades. The Parole Board is highly selective about which lifers it will even consider for release. It interviews the prisoner and reviews his or her complete file. It takes a majority of the ten-member Board to decide to conduct a public hearing. Yet a quarter of those cases in which the Board does choose to proceed are stopped cold by a judicial objection. Because of the passage of time, nearly all of these objections are from successor judges.
A successor judge does not have first-hand knowledge of the case. He or she receives information mostly from the prosecutor and/or the presentencing report. He never has to see the prisoner or hold any sort of hearing. The successor judge does not have to give any reason for objecting and the decision is not subject to review. The judge simply has to say: “I object.”
The successor judge veto makes the lifer parole process wholly arbitrary. It overrides the authority of the parole board and makes the release decision depend wholly on which successor judge the lifer is lucky or unlucky enough to draw. I urge you to support HB 5273 to make the process fairer and more rational.
Your name, organization and address