California Board of Parole Hearings

The California Board of Parole Hearings, commonly known as the Board of Parole or BPH, is the division of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that is responsible for determining parole suitability for inmates in California. The Board holds hearings for inmates who are serving indeterminate sentences, such as life in prison with the possibility of parole or 25 years to life in prison. The BPH conducts hearings where inmates can present their cases for release, and victims or their families can also provide input. This Board’s role is to assess whether inmates are ready to be released back into society based on factors like their behavior in prison, rehabilitation efforts, and the nature of their crimes. The Board’s decisions are influenced by various factors, including public safety, the inmate’s own insight into their crimes, and their plans for reintegration into the community. 

These hearings, often referred to as “lifer hearings,” are absolutely critical for anyone serving an indeterminate life sentence. Read on to learn more about the BPH, the factors the Board considers during lifer hearings, and why it is important to work with a renowned Los Angeles criminal appeals lawyer throughout the BPH process. 

Who Is Eligible for a Parole Suitability Hearing?

There are four categories of inmates who may be eligible for a parole suitability hearing. However, 

  1. Inmates sentenced to an indeterminate life sentence, such as “life in prison with the possibility of parole” or “20 years to life”;
  2. Inmates sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole under an alternate sentencing scheme, such as the California Three Strikes Rule; 
  3. Inmates whose committing offense occurred before they reached the age of 26; and
  4. Inmates who are 50 or older and have served 20 years of continuous incarceration.

Notably, the time at which each group obtains parole eligibility is different and may depend on the sentence received. For example, a Youthful Offender Parole Hearing is available to inmates after 15, 20, or 25 years of continuous incarceration, depending on the nature of the committing offense. 

How do Parole Suitability Hearings Work?

Parole suitability hearings are an opportunity for the BPH to hear an inmate’s claim that they are ready to be released back into society through the parole process. Parole is a conditional release from prison, allowing an inmate to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community under BPH supervision.

At a parole hearing, an inmate will present their case to the BPH, usually with the help of a California lawyer who has extensive experience handling BPH hearings. While parole Suitability Hearings vary to some extent, they typically follow the same process:

Inmate Preparation

Inmates eligible for parole are scheduled for a suitability hearing. Prior to the hearing, they are entitled to legal counsel. Inmates and their attorneys can review their files and prepare for the hearing, gathering documents, testimonials, and other evidence to support their case for release. Inmates may be asked to undergo a psychological evaluation prior to the hearing date. 

The BPH Panel

The hearing is conducted by a panel typically consisting of two or three commissioners from the BPH. These commissioners have the authority to make decisions regarding the inmate’s suitability for parole.

The Hearing 

During the hearing, the panel reviews the inmate’s file, which includes the committing offense as well as their prior criminal history, prison behavior, rehabilitative efforts, and psychological assessments. The inmate is given the opportunity to speak, answer the commissioners’ questions, and present evidence and witnesses in their favor.

An assistant district attorney from the county of conviction will also be present and, in most cases, will contest the inmate’s claim for release. Unlike at a trial, however, the district attorney will not question or cross-examine the inmate. Thus, the district attorney’s argument against granting parole is typically based on their belief that the inmate has not yet been rehabilitated or poses a danger to the community. District attorneys will occasionally refuse to consider parole for especially serious offenses, although this position is not usually part of an official office-wide policy. 

Victim Impact Statements

Victims of the crime or their representatives have a legal right to attend the hearing and make a statement; however, they are under no legal obligation to do so. Victims and their families can express how the crime affected them and their opinion on the inmate’s potential release.

The Board’s Decision

After hearing all testimony and reviewing the evidence, the panel deliberates in private. To grant parole, the panel must find that the inmate no longer poses an unreasonable risk to public safety and has been rehabilitated. Factors the Board considers include the severity of the crime, the inmate’s behavior in prison, efforts at rehabilitation, as well as their support network outside prison.

The panel’s decision is announced at the end of the hearing. If parole is granted, the inmate may be released after a review period. However, in cases involving murder or other serious convictions, the Governor of California has the authority to review the BPH’s decision to grant parole and can reverse, modify, or affirm the decision. If parole is denied, the panel sets the date for the next hearing, typically within one to fifteen years, depending on the circumstances. Unlike a conviction, an adverse decision denying parole is not appealable. 

What Questions Should an Inmate Be Prepared to Answer at a Parole Suitability Hearing?

During a Parole Suitability Hearing, BPH will ask various questions to assess an inmate’s readiness for release and reintegration into society. While  the exact questions will vary depending on the inmate and the crime, some common questions include:

Questions About the Commitment Offense

  • What were the circumstances leading up to the crime?
  • What was your role in the crime?
  • What were your thoughts and feelings at the time of the offense?

Questions Regarding Insight and Remorse

  • What have you learned about the impact of your crime on the victims and their families?
  • How do you feel about your crime now?
  • What steps have you taken to ensure you do not commit a similar offense in the future?

Questions About an Inmate’s Behavior in Prison

  • Have you had any disciplinary actions against you while in prison? If so, what were they for?
  • Can you discuss your participation in educational or vocational programs?
  • Have you been involved in self-help or therapy groups? What have you learned from them?

Questions Regarding an Inmate’s Plans for Parole

  • Where will you live if granted parole?
  • Do you have a support network (family, friends, community resources) to help you upon release?
  • What are your employment plans or career goals after release?

Questions Concerning an Inmate’s Coping Strategies

  • What do you see as your risk factors for reoffending?
  • What coping mechanisms have you developed to deal with stress or conflict?
  • How will you handle situations that previously led to criminal behavior?

These questions are designed to gauge the inmate’s understanding of their crime, their ability to express genuine remorse and demonstrate they’ve been rehabilitated, and present a solid plan for their reintegration into society.

Being on Parole and Revocation Hearings

If parole is granted, an inmate (now referred to as a parolee) must follow certain conditions and meet certain requirements as outlined by their parole officer or parole agent. If an inmate violates the terms of their parole, their parole agent may initiate a parole revocation hearing, which is a proceeding that determines whether a parolee has violated the conditions of their parole and, if so, whether their parole should be revoked. 

Parole revocation hearings are usually conducted by a deputy commissioner of the BPH. Before the hearing, the parolee receives a written notice detailing the alleged violations. The parolee has the right to legal representation, can present evidence, and can call witnesses to testify on their behalf.

During the parole revocation hearing, evidence is presented regarding the alleged violations. The parole officer will often testify about the parolee’s conduct and the circumstances of the alleged violation. The parolee, usually through their attorney, can challenge the evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and present their own evidence and witnesses.

The standard of proof in parole revocation hearings is “preponderance of the evidence,” meaning the deputy commissioner must find it more likely than not that the parolee violated the terms of parole. This is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal trials.

If the deputy commissioner determines that the parolee violated parole conditions, they can impose various sanctions. The consequences may range from adding new conditions to the parolee’s release terms to requiring participation in specific rehabilitation programs, to revoking parole and returning the parolee to prison. The severity of the sanction usually depends on the nature of the violation and the parolee’s history.

Parolees have the right to appeal the decision if they believe the hearing was unfair or the decision was not supported by the facts. The appeal process involves a review by the BPH and, if the parolee is unsuccessful, the courts.

Speak with a Highly Experienced Los Angeles Criminal Appeals Lawyer to Learn About the BPH Process

If you or a loved one is serving an indeterminate life sentence and will soon be eligible for parole, it is essential that you have a firm grasp of the BPH process and what you can do to maximize your chances of success. At Power Trial Lawyers, our respected Los Angeles criminal appeals attorneys have experience successfully handling cases and securing the release of inmates sentenced to lengthy prison sentences. We are intimately familiar with the Board of Parole Hearings process and know what it takes to convince the Board that you’re ready to be released on parole. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation today, call Power Trial Lawyers at 213-800-7664. You can also reach us through our secure online contact form. 



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