TDCJ’s Flagrant Violations of Constitutional Law in Parole Process

By May 13, 2011Parole

Parole in TexasA releasee (parolee) is entitled to a prompt preliminary hearing once the revocation process has been initiated by the execution of a revocation warrant. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972). Due process, according to the Supreme Court of the United States in Morrissey v. Brewer, requires that a preliminary hearing be held “as promptly as convenient” after a parolee has been arrested to “determine whether there is probable cause or reasonable ground to believe that the arrested parolee has committed acts that would constitute a violation of parole conditions.”

In Ex Parte Bohannan, the applicant (parolee) filed an application for writ of mandamus arguing that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) violated his constitutional rights by failing to hold a preliminary hearing when the State sought to revoke his parole.

While on parole for aggravated rape, applicant was arrested for monitoring violations. However, TDCJ did not hold the required preliminary hearing because it has a standing policy that it does not conduct preliminary hearings while there is a criminal case pending. Once applicant filed for habeas corpus, however, the TDCJ conducted the preliminary hearing. Even though he ultimately received the hearing that he sought, applicant nonetheless requested that the CCA intervene, arguing that his situation is not unique in Texas and that this problem is “capable of repetition, yet evading review” (an exception to the mootness doctrine).

TDCJ, in its brief to the CCA, stated its belief that it need not conduct such a hearing while a criminal case is pending because the court system conducts similar probable cause hearings and a preliminary hearing would only be redundant. In essence, TDCJ was saying they there is no need for them to follow the law.

Ultimately, the CCA held that the case was non-justiciable (moot), so it did not consider the substance of applicant’s claim. However, Judge Keasler, joined by Judges Price, Hervey and Cochran, penned a scathing concurrance wherein it warns the TDCJ that if it continues its policy of not granting preliminary hearings in parole revocation cases, “it does so at its own peril.”

The Supreme Court has not made any exceptions to [the preliminary hearing requirement]. Thus, contrary to the assertion of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), as amicus curiae, such a hearing is not duplicative of any other prior probable cause determination. The failure to comply with Morrissey violates a releasee’s constitutional rights, and our experience with this issue establishes that the Board, pursuant to the policies established by the TDCJ, Parole Division, has violated, and continues to flagrantly violate, clearly established constitutional law. Indeed, TDCJ has admitted as much: “there is no reasonable expectation that the TDCJ will discontinue its policy of not providing a preliminary hearing when a releasee is being held on pending criminal charges . . . .” This is patently unacceptable. And if it “reasonably expects” to continue this policy, it does so at its peril.

The answer for future parolees: MANDAMUS.

Because a claim challenging the Board’s failure to provide a preliminary revocation hearing is non-justiciable, Article 11.07 does not provide an adequate remedy at law for a release to compel the Board to comply with its ministerial duty. But mandamus clearly does. And in response to any future alleged violations on mandamus, as time is of the essence, it may be necessary and appropriate for TDCJ and the Board, through their legal representatives, to appear before us in person to answer any allegation that Morrissey’s mandate is being disobeyed.