Last year the legislature passed a two hundred page bill affecting many areas of criminal law. One of the few provisions that applies to persons sentenced prior to the effective date of the bill (July 1, 2014) is MCA Sect. 47-7-3(1)g(iii):
iii) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1)(a) of this section, any nonviolent offender who has served twenty-five percent (25%) or more of his sentence may be paroled if the sentencing judge or if the sentencing judge is retired, disabled or incapacitated, the senior circuit judge, recommends parole to the Parole Board and the Parole Board approves.
I haven’t heard much on how this provision is faring in the trial courts. An appeal filed the other day allows us to see at least how one inmate came out. Juan Perez was sentenced by Judge Kosta Vlahos to fifteen years without parole for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He filed a petition seeking to have the senior circuit judge recommend him for parole and has attached various paperwork attesting to his good behavior while incarcerated. The judge, Roger T. Clark, denied it writing as follows:
The legislature has chosen to make this extraordinary relief available, but the Court finds that troublesome. Particularly as a successor Judge, this Court has no information or insight into the offender’s history leading up to his conviction or his record as an inmate. Regardless parole decisions should remain solely in the hands of the Parole Board. Trial Court Judges already shoulder substantial burdens which accompany the processing of felonies and the sentencing of offenders. Perez was sentenced as an habitual offender. “The purpose of habitual offender acts is to punish not only for the immediate offense, but to punish for a pattern of criminal conduct.” Berry v. State, 907 So.2d 1011, 1013 (par. 10) (Miss.Ct. App. 2005). This State’s legislature, as a matter of public policy, has a history of still penalties for drug offenders as well as habitual offenders, See, e.g., Stromas v. State, 618 So.2d 116 (MIss. 1993). It is therefore ORDERED AND ADJUDGED, that the Petitioner’s Parole Recommendation is denied.
Juan Perez’s appeal can be found here. The order starts at p. 18.
Does anyone else have any experience with a similar petition? It would be useful to know what other judges are doing around the state. Since this is all new, I have no idea what the courts will do with these on appeal but it does seem to be error for the trial court to just flat out refuse to entertain these petitions on the grounds that “they are not my job.”