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California Court of Appeal: Trial Court Must Receive Parole Agency’s Written Report Before Ruling on Parole Revocation Petition for Lifetime Parolee Despite Remand to Prison Being Mandatory

by Douglas Ankney

The Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, held that Penal Code § 1203.2(b)(1) requires trial courts to receive a parole agency’s written report before ruling on a parole revocation petition and that there is no exception for a petition filed against a lifetime parolee.

Jerry Denton Williams, Jr. was released from prison in 2018 on lifetime parole stemming from a murder conviction in 1995. In 2019, Williams was charged with two misdemeanors and the Sonoma County District Attorney (“SCDA”) filed a petition to revoke Williams’ parole. At the hearing on the SCDA’s petition, Williams moved for a continuance because the trial court had failed “to refer the petition to the parole agency for a written report to justify the reasons why intermediate sanctions were not employed” as required by § 1203.2(b)(1).

The trial court ultimately concluded that § 1203.2(b)(1) does not require it to obtain a written report. The judge acknowledged the statute’s “mandatory shall language” and the absence of “an exception for a lifetime parolee” but reasoned it would be “an absurd result” to refer Williams’ case to the parole agency for a report because the report would “be of zero utility” since the judge could not “exercise any discretion based on the recommendations contained therein” since the required sanction for a parole violation for a lifetime parolee is remand to prison under § 3000.08(h). Thus, the trial court remanded Williams to prison custody, and Williams appealed.

While the appeal was pending, the Board of Hearings found Williams suitable for parole and released him from prison. While his release rendered the appeal moot, People v. DeLeon, 399 P.3d 13 (Cal. 2017) (“parole violation does not constitute a disadvantageous collateral consequence for purposes of assessing mootness”), the Court nevertheless agreed to hear the appeal, explaining that “the issue is of continuing public interest and likely to recur yet evade appellate review....” See People v. Gregerson, 202 Cal. App. 4th 306 (2011).

 The Court observed “[w]hen defendants convicted of certain offenses, including murder, are released from prison, they are placed on parole under the supervision of the” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.” People v. Castle, 12 Cal. App. 5th 1321 (2017). The parole agency or the district attorney (“DA”) may file a petition to revoke parole. § 1203.2(a), (b)(1). Petitions filed by the DA generally seek revocation based on criminal conduct; whereas, revocations by the parole agency are based on minor or technical violations. People v. Zamudio, 12 Cal. App. 5th 8 (2017).

If the supervised person is on lifetime parole, the court may not impose any intermediate sanctions but must revoke release, remand to prison, and return the person to the jurisdiction of the Board of Parole Hearings for the purpose of future parole consideration. §§ 3000.08(h) and 3000.1(a).

Upon learning of parole violations, the parole agency “may impose additional and appropriate conditions of supervision, including rehabilitation and treatment services and appropriate incentives for compliance, and impose immediate, structured, and intermediate sanctions for parole violations, including flash incarceration in a city or a county jail.” § 3008.08(d). But if the paroling agency concludes “that intermediate sanctions up to and including flash incarceration are not appropriate,” it must file a petition to revoke parole in the trial court. § 3008.08(f). The petition must “include a written report that contains additional information regarding the petition, including … any recommendations” and “the reasons for that agency’s determination that intermediate sanctions without court intervention … are inappropriate.” § 3000.08(f); see Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.541(c).

On the other hand, when the DA files a revocation petition, it may be submitted to the court without the accompanying report by the parole agency: “by its terms section 3000.08 applies only to parole revocation petitions filed by the ‘supervising parole agency.’ Similarly, rule 4.541 expressly applies to ‘supervising agency petitions for revocation of ... parole ....’ Accordingly, the district attorney is not obligated to file revocation petitions with the written report mandated by those provisions, nor must the petition state why intermediate sanctions are not considered appropriate.” Zamudio.

However, the Court explained that while a written report need not accompany the DA’s petition, the written report is still required. After the petition is filed the trial “court shall refer ... the petition to the ... parole officer. After the receipt of a written report from the ... parole officer, the court shall read and consider the report and ... the petition and may modify, revoke, or terminate the supervision of the supervised person ... if the interests of justice so require.” § 1203.2(b)(1).

The Court in the instant case concluded that the language of the statutes is clear and that under principles of statutory construction, the Court must follow the plain meaning unless a literal interpretation would result in absurd consequences the Legislature did not intend. People v. Wilson, 66 Cal. App. 5th 874 (2021). Sections 1203.2(b)(1)’s mandatory language requires the trial to submit the DA’s petition to the parole agency and obtain the report from the parole agency before any further action on the petition. Section 30000.08(h), which requires that lifetime parolees be remanded to prison, does not come into play until after the trial considers both the petition and the report, the Court stated. § 1203.2(b)(1). The Court noted that § 3000.08(h) doesn’t provide for a different procedure in cases involving a lifetime parolee.

This result was not absurd. Merely because the trial court could not exercise any discretion to impose intermediate sanctions on lifetime parolees, the report from the parole agency serves other legitimate purposes. For example, the Court opined that the agency report could influence the DA to withdraw the petition, stating “we can conceive of situations in which a district attorney … might reconsider that decision upon learning that the parole agency would have imposed intermediate sanctions in light of the parolee’s individual circumstances.” Additionally, the Court pointed out that the written report serves purposes other than addressing intermediate sanctions. For example, it includes background information “that might inform a trial court’s decision whether parole was violated,” stated the Court.

The Court concluded that the plain language of § 1203.2(b)(1) requires the trial court to refer a DA-initiated petition to the parole agency for a written report, and there is no statutory exception for lifetime parolees. It acknowledged that the report “will have limited utility,” but “the Legislature’s directive is clear, and we are not at liberty to alter it.” People v. Wiley, 36 Cal. App. 5th. 1063 (2019).

Accordingly, the Court held that the trial court erred by not obtaining a report from the parole agency prior to determining whether Williams violated his parole but dismissed the appeal as moot. See: Peope v. Williams, 71 Cal. App. 5th 1029 (2021). 

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Related legal case

Peope v. Williams



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