California Dept. of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 5 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 499 (1995)

Opinion of the Court

suitability for parole. California law required the Board to set a release date for respondent unless it found that "the public safety requires a more lengthy period of incarceration for this individual." 3041(b). The Board found respondent unsuitable for parole for numerous reasons, including the heinous, atrocious, and cruel nature of his offense; the mutilation of Ms. Washabaugh during or after the murder; respondent's record of violence and assaultive behavior; and respondent's commission of his second murder while on parole for his first. Supplemental App. to Pet. for Cert. 45.

Under the law in place at the time respondent murdered Ms. Washabaugh, respondent would have been entitled to subsequent suitability hearings on an annual basis. 1977 Cal. Stats., ch. 165, 46. In 1981, however, the California Legislature had authorized the Board to defer subsequent suitability hearings for up to three years if the prisoner has been convicted of "more than one offense which involves the taking of a life" and if the Board "finds that it is not reasonable to expect that parole would be granted at a hearing during the following years and states the bases for the finding." Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041.5(b)(2) (West 1982).1 In

light of the considerations that led it to find respondent unsuitable for parole, and based on its conclusion that a longer period of observation was required before a parole release date could be projected, the Board determined that it was not reasonable to expect that respondent would be found suitable for parole in 1990 or 1991. Pursuant to the 1981 amendment, the Board scheduled the next hearing for 1992.

1 The statute was again amended in 1990 to allow the Board the alternative of deferring hearings for five years if the prisoner has been convicted of more than two murders, Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041.5(b)(2)(C) (West Supp. 1994), 1990 Cal. Stats., ch. 1053, and in 1994 to extend that alternative to prisoners convicted of even a single murder, 1994 Cal. Stats., ch. 560. The 5-year deferral applies, however, "only to offenses committed before July 1, 1977, or on or after January 1, 1991," 1990 Cal. Stats., ch. 1053, and thus appears to have no application to respondent, whose most recent crime was committed in 1980.

503

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