One of the big problems with the Board is that 97% of everyone in TDCJ is there by plea bargain. Usually the deal is cut out in the hall just before the plea is entered in many cases. There is no pre-trial hearings relative to the contents of the police report or other allegations as to what the state says are the facts of the case. As a result of that matter way too many parole cases determined (many years later) on those old police reports which every trial lawyer who ever defended a criminal case knows always contain errors. However, too frequently in plea deals the errors are never even raised or tested under the rules of evidence. Sometimes these are serious errors. Pre-sentence reports do not correct this issue, and in state court too few lawyers fight to correct those errors once the court receives a PSI [ed. note: presumably a pre-sentence investigation file]. After all, the client has entered a guilty plea, he said he did it, lawyers just do not seem to understand how important it is that a plea is based on correct facts.
Fixing those factual problems years later is one of the things that parole lawyers do. The parole board relies on these police reports when voting a case for parole. Thus the factual issues are not really faced until the defendant faces the parole board and learns what substantial errors are found in the police reports. Most of these errors are errors which will make no difference to the innocence or guilt of the offender, but damn sure make a difference to the parole board.
This whole parole system needs to be re-examined. In all the other states I have done parole work in, none of them operate like the Texas system. THIS PROBLEM IS NOT THE FAULT OF THE PAROLE BOARD--IT IS THE FAULT OF THE LEGE. [Emphasis in original.]
Monday, October 06, 2014
Habern: On plea bargains, parole, and the consequences of untested evidence
Long-time Texas parole attorney Bill Habern, whose comments on the Pamela Freeman case Grits appended to this post, followed up with an email pointing out an aspect of the parole process that deserves readers' attention: