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Oregon Parole Board Must Explain Reason for Extended Parole Postponement Period

by Mark Wilson

The Court of Appeals of Oregon reversed and remanded the Parole Board’s order deferring prisoner’s parole release date for eight years, ruling that “ORS 144.280(3) requires the [parole] board to issue a final order that contains findings of fact and conclusions of law when it decides to defer more than two years,” but the board failed to sufficiently explain why it chose an eight-year deferral period. 

Since 2009, Oregon law has mandated that the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision (“Board”) “may not postpone a prisoner’s scheduled release date ... less than two years, or more than 10 years.” ORS 144.125(3)(a). No statute or rule limits the Board’s discretion to impose a particular postponement period within the statutorily mandated range. 

Roberto Contreras was convicted of a 1986 Oregon murder and sentenced to life in prison. The Board initially set a May 29, 2008, parole release date for Contreras but subsequently postponed his release at two-year intervals in 2007 and 2009. The Board again postponed release four years in 2011, establishing a May 29, 2016, parole release date. Finally, in 2016, the Board postponed Contreras’s release eight years, until May 29, 2024.

The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the 2016 Board order was not supported by substantial reason because the Board did not explain why it selected an eight-year parole postponement period.

Oregon Board orders must be supported by “substantial evidence,” which requires that the order be backed by sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable person to make a particular finding. Jenkins v. Board of Parole, 335 P.3d 828 (Ore. 2014); ORS 144.335(3). The order must also be supported by “substantial reason,” which requires the Board to provide an adequate explanation connecting the facts of the case, including any facts found by the Board, with the result it reaches in its order. Jenkins.

The Court agreed with Contreras “that the board is not entitled to arbitrarily pick a number between two and 10.” In doing so, the Court rejected the Board’s argument that “the statutory standard for the length of the deferral is entirely discretionary, and thus, the board should not be required to further explain its discretionary decision to choose eight years.” 

The difficulty with the Board’s order “is that nowhere does the board explain or suggest the rationale that it applied to connect” the facts it found “to the board’s decision to set the ‘specified deferral period’ at eight years,” the Court concluded. 

“Without anything from which to infer how the OAR 255-062-0016 factors found by the board led it to select ‘a specified deferral period,’” the Court found that meaningful review was not possible, and “there is no assurance that the board has paid ‘responsible attention’ to the standards that it must apply to that decision.” 

Accordingly, the Court remanded the case to the Board to provide the necessary explanation of its order. See: Contreras v. Board of Parole, 443 P.3d 636 (Ore. Ct. App. 2019). 

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Related legal case

Contreras v. Board of Parole



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