California Dept. of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 13 (1995)

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

Opinion of the Court

90% of all prisoners are found unsuitable for parole at the initial hearing, while 85% are found unsuitable at the second and subsequent hearings. In re Jackson, 39 Cal. 3d, at 473, 703 P. 2d, at 105. In light of these numbers, the amendment "was seen as a means 'to relieve the [Board] from the costly and time-consuming responsibility of scheduling parole hearings for prisoners who have no chance of being released.' " Ibid. (quoting legislative history).

Second, the Board's authority under the amendment is carefully tailored to that end. The amendment has no effect on the date of any prisoner's initial parole suitability hearing; it affects the timing only of subsequent hearings. Accordingly, the amendment has no effect on any prisoner unless the Board has first concluded, after a hearing, not only that the prisoner is unsuitable for parole, but also that "it is not reasonable to expect that parole would be granted at a hearing during the following years." Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041.5(b)(2) (West 1982). "This is no arbitrary decision," Morris v. Castro, 166 Cal. App. 3d 33, 38, 212 Cal. Rptr. 299, 302 (1985); the Board must conduct "a full hearing and review" of all relevant facts, ibid., and state the bases for its finding. Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041.5(b)(2) (West 1982). Though California law is not entirely clear on this point, the reliability of the Board's determination may also be enhanced by the possibility of an administrative appeal. See 15 Cal. Admin. Code 2050 (1994).

Moreover, the Board retains the authority to tailor the frequency of subsequent suitability hearings to the particular circumstances of the individual prisoner. The default requirement is an annual hearing, but the Board may defer the next hearing up to two years more depending on the circumstances. Cal. Penal Code Ann. 3041.5(b)(2) (West 1982). Thus, a mass murderer who has participated in re-"reduced" on the basis of societal animosity toward multiple murderers. Cf. ibid.


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