Monday, April 8, 2019
Court of Appeal:
First District’s Div. Two Grants Habeas Corpus Relief to Man Who Is Now on Parole; Rebuffs A.G.’s Contention That the Matter Is Moot; Orders No Parole Supervision
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The First District Court of Appeal held Friday that a man who pled guilty in 1988 to kidnapping for robbery and was sentenced to an indeterminate term of life with the possibility of parole should have been paroled sooner than he was and is entitled to habeas corpus relief.
Post-release relief comes in the case of William Palmer who, after 10 parole suitability hearings over a 19-year period, had been found unfit for release, but was recently freed following an eleventh hearing. Questioning the wisdom of the “serial denials,” Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline of Div. Two decreed:
“Petitioner has already served a prison term grossly disproportionate to his offense. His continued constructive custody thus constitutes cruel and unusual punishment within the meaning of article 1, section 17, of the California Constitution and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He is entitled to release from all forms of custody, including parole supervision.”
Kline rejected the contention of the Office of Attorney General that the petition should be denied as moot, explaining:
“…Palmer’s petition is unquestionably not moot, as he remains in constructive custody.”
The presiding justice declared that Palmer, who committed his crime at age 17, has not evinced such dangerousness as to justify his prolonged incarceration. He wrote:
“It is telling that Palmer did not remain in prison for 30-plus years because of any assessment that his culpability for the crime he committed warranted such lengthy incarceration. Palmer became eligible for parole over 20 years ago….[H]e was subsequently denied parole not because of the seriousness of his offense or criminal history, or even because of violent conduct in prison (which would not, in any case, bear on the proportionality of his punishment), but because of minor disciplinary issues seen as bearing on his judgment and impulse control.
“We are convinced that in light of Palmer’s age at the time of the offense and attendant diminishment of his culpability, and the facts that he attempted to minimize the danger he posed by using an unloaded weapon and did not physically injure his victim, that his continued incarceration has become so disproportionate to his individual culpability as to be ‘constitutionally excessive.’ ”
This was not the first time Div. Two sided with Palmer.
On July 26, 2017, the panel, in an opinion by Justice James Richman, ordered that Palmer receive a new parole hearing on the ground that his previous hearing did not comport with standards it had set forth in a 2015 opinion by Kline in In re Butler. The Supreme Court granted review in Butler, rendered its decision on April 2, 2018, and remanded Palmer I to Div. Two with instructions to apply its version of Butler.
On Sept. 13, 2018, in an opinion by Kline, a new hearing was ordered “to comply with a statutory mandate to give ‘great weight’ to certain factors related to Palmer having been a minor when he committed his crime” which, the jurist noted, was “a matter we found unnecessary to address when the case was first before us.”
The Supreme Court granted review in that case and it is pending.
Order to Warden
Div. Two, last Aug. 14, while Palmer was still incarcerated, directed that “that the Warden of Solano State Prison show cause before this court why petitioner’s release from prison should not be ordered forthwith,” adding:
“The justices will be familiar with the facts and issues, will have conferred among themselves on the case, and will not require oral argument.”
The People filed a return to the order to show cause. Cara Gagliano, attorney for Palmer, requested oral argument, which was held Feb. 20.
The court was informed by letter of March 5 from Deputy Attorney General Sara Romano that Palmer’s release, following a new parole hearing, was final.
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