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California Court of Appeal: Lack of Notice of Filing Deadline Due Process Violation, Allowing Late Challenge to Erroneous Parole Designation

The error occurred when Bryant Ruiz was released from prison and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) placed him on parole, instead of Post-Release Community Supervision (“PRCS”), when his offense didn’t require parole. When he violated parole, his court-appointed lawyer moved to terminate parole and transfer Ruiz to PRCS. While the State admitted CDCR erred by placing Ruiz on parole, it nevertheless convinced the Superior Court that it didn’t have jurisdiction to do what Ruiz’s lawyer asked because he was beyond the 60-day time limit to challenge the erroneous designation.

On appeal, Ruiz argued that he was never notified of the time limit, which violated his due process rights. The State argued that the statute itself is enough notice to satisfy due process. The Court agreed with Ruiz.

The Court explained that notice is a fundamental requirement of the Due Process Clause of both the California and U.S. Constitution when a person faces a deprivation of a liberty interest. In rejecting the State’s argument that the statutes themselves provided Ruiz with sufficient notice, the Court observed that “the California Supreme Court long ago concluded a statutory provision allowing a challenge to a state action does not afford an individual a fair opportunity to be heard if there is no requirement that he or she be given notice of the right to make the challenge,” citing In re Harris, 446 P.2d 148 (Cal. 1968). Relying on the statute as notice for due process purposes “lays a trap for the unwary and poses a significant risk of an erroneous deprivation of conditional liberty interests if the CDCR misclassifies an individual and places that person on parole supervision rather than PRCS,” the Court explained. Quoting from People v. Swink, 150 Cal. App. 3d 1076 (1984), the Court added that notice must be “reasonably calculated, under all the circumstance, to apprise interested parties of the pendency of the action and afford them an opportunity to present their objections…. The notice … must afford a reasonable time for those interested to make their appearance.” 

The Court made it clear that being on parole is a more serious deprivation of liberty than being on PRCS, implicating due process concerns. Under PRCS, the maximum term is three years of supervision, but on parole, it’s up to five years and can be extended to 10. Those on PRCS can ask for early termination after six months, and termination is automatic if there are no violations for a year. There is no early termination for parole. Parolees also are subject to GPS monitoring, while those on PRCS are not.

With that in mind, the Court stated that Ruiz was never notified of the 60-day deadline to challenge his wrongful placement on parole. The guilty plea form he signed did not specify which type of supervision he would be placed on after prison, only that he faced “parole or post-release community supervision.” The papers CDCR gave him upon release did not say why he was on parole or that he must appeal his designation within 60 days.

And as for the State’s contention that Ruiz’s “ignorance of the law” is no excuse, the Court called that argument misplaced. “This maxim is typically applied when considering whether a defendant had the necessary mens rea to be held responsible for a crime. However, this is a different concept than whether a defendant received sufficient notice for due process purposes.” Since Ruiz wasn’t informed of his right to challenge the parole designation within 60 days, “we do not believe it is adequate for the government simply to rely upon the time worn adage ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse,’” the Court admonished.

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Related legal case

State v. Ruiz

 

 

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