Angolan prisoner suing national parole board remains locked after appeals court overturns release order

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On November 23, less than an hour before longtime prisoner Bobby Sneed was released from Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola – by order of a state judge – a panel of court judges appeal overturned the decision and dismissed Sneed’s habeas corpus application. .

Tuesday’s decision was the latest setback in Sneed’s months-long battle with the state parole board that began when board members rescinded his previously granted parole in May, alleging he had used drugs in prison. This was despite the fact that he was acquitted of the underlying drug charge by the prison disciplinary board.

Sneed maintains that the parole board’s actions violated his constitutional rights, state law, the parole board’s own policies and that he is now being illegally detained. Sneed’s attorney, Thomas Frampton, said the parole board decided to withdraw Sneed’s parole in retaliation for making his case public. The Lens first reported on Sneed’s case in May, interviewing Frampton and members of Sneed’s family.

In their request that the State First Circuit Court of Appeals review the judge’s release order, attorneys for the state attorney general’s office – who represent the parole board – argued that Frampton had committed an ethical breach in deciding to speak to the press. They wrote that his decision to be questioned while the case was still undergoing disciplinary proceedings in prison was an attempt to “unduly influence court proceedings.”

But the parole board’s main argument against Sneed’s release was that state courts cannot review parole board decisions or proceedings – an argument that a panel of First Circuit judges seemed to agree in a very brief notice.

“The trial court’s decision ordering respondent Bobby Sneed on parole is set aside,” the decision reads. “The power to grant or deny parole is constitutionally vested in the Parole Board. “

Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry applauded the appeals court decision to overturn the district court ruling, which the office said had “usurped the authority of the governor and the parole board” in a press release last week.

Landry also deemed the decision necessary for public safety.

“As crime rates rise in Louisiana and across the country, my office will continue to do everything possible to protect the citizens of Louisiana and ensure that they are not subjected to further harm from violent offenders, “Landry said in the statement.

But on Monday, Sneed’s attorneys filed a petition with the Louisiana Supreme Court to review the decision, calling it “dangerous and radical” and suggesting it could be used to condone various illegal behavior by the parole board. , including racial discrimination and kidnapping.

“If the Parole Board expressly decides to grant parole to a white prisoner on the basis of his race while denying parole to a black prisoner on the basis of his race, in flagrant violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, would a black prisoner denied parole be allowed to challenge his imprisonment? asks for the file. “The opinion below answers ‘no’. Or if a single parole board member ordered the kidnapping of a recently paroled individual, smuggled back to jail, but characterized such an action as a “quash” of parole, would he be a prisoner? allowed to challenge his imprisonment? The opinion below answers “no”.

Parole granted, then forfeited

The ordeal has raised questions not only about the authority of the courts over allegedly illegal parole board cases, but the decision to keep an elderly man in jail for alleged drug use in the first place.

Even before his disciplinary board hearing on the contraband charge in May, Sneed’s attorney Thomas Frampton argued that it was a waste of resources to keep him incarcerated even though he had consumed drugs. drugs, and that would benefit everyone. for him to be released and to receive treatment in the community. He warned that Sneed – who previously suffered a stroke – would likely die in prison if his parole was canceled.

“No one disputes that Bobby Sneed no longer poses a risk to public safety,” Frampton told The Lens in May. “So at the end of the day the question is, do we want the taxpayers to pay to continue incarcerating Bobby in a situation where we know he won’t get any kind of help?” Or do we want private charities to help someone live the last years of their life, in the free world with their family, and get the medical treatment they need? “

Sneed, a Vietnam veteran, is 74 years old and has been in prison for almost half a century. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for being a lookout on a robbery in which a man was killed. Sneed never entered the residence where the murder took place, but he is the only one involved in the crime who remains locked up.

In March, Sneed was unanimously granted parole in a hearing that lasted less than 20 minutes. But days before his release, he collapsed in prison and was taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for pneumonia, hypoxia, post-cardiac arrest and COVID-19.

At one point, prison officials also administered a drug test which they said tested positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines. Rather than be released, Sneed was sent back to Angola, where he would await a disciplinary hearing on a charge of smuggling for suspected drug use.

But when the Disciplinary Board hearing finally took place in early May, Sneed was acquitted of the contraband charge after Frampton presented evidence questioning the chain of custody over the urine sample, among other things. .

Yet after the hearing, a member of the parole board independently decided to “cancel” Sneed’s parole. A few days later, over Sneed’s attorney’s objections, another hearing took place and they voted unanimously to keep Sneed in jail, citing undisclosed evidence they had received from the Department of Corrections. suggesting that Sneed had in fact used drugs.

Sneed argued that the process was illegal in several ways. Parole board policy states that in order to begin the termination process, they must first be contacted by DOC Secretary James LeBlanc. Sneed maintains that this never happened. Further, Sneed alleges that under state law he should have been given the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence at the second parole hearing – an opportunity he was not given. offered.

History of the procedure

The case currently making its way through state appeals courts is Sneed’s second trial over the parole board’s decision. After a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Sneed against the parole board was dismissed on procedural grounds, his lawyers filed a habeas corpus petition in state court.

Last month, 19th Judicial District Ronald Johnson heard oral arguments on whether or not he was competent to hear Sneed’s claims. He was expected to make a ruling that would determine whether the case would follow.

But instead, to the frustration of lawyers in Landry’s office, Johnson decided to accede to Sneed’s petition. He issued an oral court ruling on November 18 and signed an order demanding that Sneed be immediately released from prison.

Johnson said the disciplinary board’s decision to acquit Sneed should have been binding on the parole board and therefore Sneed should have been released once that decision was made. He said he was not “reviewing” a parole board decision, but addressing their illegal action.

“The court views the acquittal by the administrative secretariat with the disciplinary board of Mr. Sneed as a decision binding on the state and the parole board and any subsequent litigation between Mr. Sneed and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections as a matter of law, ”Johnson said.

Having found violations of state law, Johnson did not respond to Sneed’s constitutional claims regarding violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Despite his order for Sneed’s immediate release, state law requires prisoners with habeas corpus not to be released for 48 hours – giving the state the ability to file a review order with the court appeal – and Johnson ultimately issued a subsequent order that suspended his release until 5 p.m. Tuesday, November 23. If the First Circuit Court of Appeals did not take action at that time, Sneed should be released.

Lawyers for the parole board filed their emergency petition with the First Circuit just hours before Tuesday’s deadline, arguing that the district court had no power to define the methods by which the parole board. parole makes his decisions and Judge Johnson ignored procedural requirements in rendering a decision on the merits of Sneed’s petition without first determining whether or not he had the authority to make a decision in the first place.

They demanded that the court urgently stay the district court order ordering Sneed’s release and that they ultimately dismiss the case.

A few hours later, the court made the latter. The decision to dismiss the Sneed case was signed by First Circuit judges J. Michael McDonald, Walter I. Lanier III and Elizabeth Wolfe.

In a subpoena to the Louisiana Supreme Court, Sneed’s attorneys said the panel fundamentally misunderstood the nature of Sneed’s claims.

“Sir. Sneed never claimed that the Parole Board made a ‘wrong decision’ or wrongly assessed that he needed more rehabilitation,” the record states. have broken the law. ”


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