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Jefferson v. State

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

June 7, 2018

Leonard Jefferson
State of Rhode Island.

          Superior Court Providence County (PM 14-3816). Robert D. Krause Associate Justice.

          For Petitioner: Camile A. McKenna Office of the Public Defender

          For State of Rhode Island: Aaron L. Weisman Department of Attorney General

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.



         The petitioner, Leonard Jefferson, appeals[1] from the June 2, 2015 denial of his application for postconviction relief in Providence County Superior Court. He contends before this Court that the hearing justice erred in denying his application for postconviction relief because, in petitioner's view, the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution was violated when his parole was revoked and he was denied the possibility of parole in the future pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 13-8-14(b). He further avers that the separation of powers doctrine as well as his right to be free from double jeopardy were also violated when he was denied the possibility of parole; and he further argues that his due process rights were violated when his parole was revoked.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the judgment of the Superior Court.

         I Facts and Travel

         On October 4, 1974, petitioner was convicted in Providence County Superior Court of murder in violation of G.L. 1956 § 11-23-1. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. This Court affirmed his conviction in State v. Jefferson, 116 R.I. 124, 353 A.2d 190 (1976). We refer the interested reader to that opinion for a detailed recitation of the facts underlying Mr. Jefferson's original murder conviction. We will restrict ourselves to only those facts which are relevant to the case before us. In setting forth said facts, we rely primarily on Mr. Jefferson's application for postconviction relief and the attachments thereto.

         On June 2, 1976, after Mr. Jefferson's 1974 murder conviction, the General Assembly amended the parole statutes to include the following language, which remains in the current version of the statute:

"[I]n the case of a prisoner sentenced to imprisonment for life who is released on parole and who is subsequently convicted of a crime of violence as defined in section 11-47-2, [2] said conviction shall constitute an automatic revocation of parole and the prisoner shall not be eligible for parole thereafter." P.L. 1976 ch. 223 § 2; see also § 13-8-14(b).

         Subsequently, in January of 1986, Mr. Jefferson was granted parole. He was thereafter arrested in Pennsylvania and, on May 18, 1994, was convicted in that commonwealth of one count of aggravated assault, for which he served a twenty-year prison term.

         On December 13 and December 29, 1993, after Mr. Jefferson's Pennsylvania arrest, but before his conviction, a preliminary parole revocation hearing was held in Pennsylvania with respect to determining whether or not, as a result of his Pennsylvania arrest, there was probable cause that he had violated his parole related to his Rhode Island sentence. Thereafter, on November 10, 1994, after Mr. Jefferson's Pennsylvania conviction and while he was serving his sentence in Pennsylvania, the Rhode Island Parole Board held a final parole revocation hearing and voted to revoke his parole and indicated, in the minutes from that hearing, that he would "no longer be eligible for parole * * *." In November of 2013, upon completion of his prison term in Pennsylvania, petitioner was transported to the Adult Correctional Institutions in Rhode Island. On April 14, 2014, Mr. Jefferson appeared before the Parole Board for what appears to have been a second final parole revocation hearing; there is no indication in the record that he was represented by counsel at that time. The Parole Board voted to affirm the above-referenced revocation of Mr. Jefferson's parole and, according to his application for postconviction relief presently at issue, informed him that he "is and forever will remain ineligible for parole-consideration." Mr. Jefferson represents, in his application for postconviction relief, and the state does not contest, that the basis of the Parole Board's decision that he will remain ineligible for parole was the mandate contained in § 13-8-14(b).

         Mr. Jefferson filed the instant pro se application for postconviction relief on July 1, 2014. He alleged therein that the Parole Board's reliance on § 13-8-14(b) was "improper and unconstitutional * * *." Specifically, he contended that he had not been convicted of any offense listed under G.L. 1956 § 11-47-2. He further contended that his due process rights under Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972), were violated during the revocation proceedings.

         On April 1, 2015, Mr. Jefferson's court-appointed counsel (having entered his appearance on October 1, 2014) filed both a motion to withdraw as counsel[3] and a memorandum in support of that motion pursuant to this Court's opinion in Shatney v. State, 755 A.2d 130 (R.I. 2000);[4] the grounds for the motion to withdraw were that the issues raised in petitioner's application for postconviction relief were "wholly frivolous, and not supported by existing law, or by a good faith basis for the reversal, extension, or modification of existing law * * *." On April 14, 2015, a hearing was held on court-appointed counsel's motion to withdraw, in the course of which hearing the hearing justice granted the motion. Subsequently, on April 29, 2015, Mr. Jefferson filed an "Objection to Defense Counsel's Shatney Memorandum." On June 2, 2015, a second hearing was conducted, at which Mr. Jefferson appeared pro se; at the close of that hearing, Mr. Jefferson's application for postconviction relief was denied. He filed a notice of appeal on June 19, 2015.

         II Standard of Review

         When passing on a hearing justice's denial of an application for postconviction relief, "this Court accords great deference to the hearing justice's findings of fact." Lynch v. State, 13 A.3d 603, 605 (R.I. 2011). As such, "[t]his Court will uphold the decision absent clear error or a determination that the hearing justice misconceived or overlooked material evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). That being said, we will review "de novo any questions of law or fact pertaining to an alleged violation of an applicant's constitutional rights." Id.

         III Analysis

         We need not address each of Mr. Jefferson's contentions before this Court due to the fact that, in our judgment, it was error to deny him representation of counsel and his "opportunity to be heard in person" when the Parole Board voted to revoke his parole on November 10, 1994. Morrissey, 408 U.S. at 489. Moreover, in our opinion, his right to counsel under the specific circumstances of this case was also not provided to him at the April 14, 2014 hearing before the Parole Board, at which the Parole Board affirmed the denial of his parole.[5]

         The United States Supreme Court in Morrissey, 408 U.S. at 489, set forth what is minimally necessary to comply with the requirements of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution in the context of parole revocation. For the purposes of this opinion, we will focus only on the requirements set forth therein with respect to the final revocation hearing, as those are the pertinent requirements for this case.[6] It appears from the facts of this case that, after Mr. Jefferson's preliminary parole revocation hearing, which took place on December 13 and December 29, 1993, he was in essence given two final parole revocation hearings on November 10, 1994 and April 14, 2014. The United States Supreme Court in Morrissey stated that, for a final parole revocation hearing, the minimum requirements of due process are as follows:

"(a) written notice of the claimed violations of parole; (b)disclosure to the parolee of evidence against him; (c)opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence; (d) the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation); (e) a 'neutral and detached' hearing body such as a traditional parole board, members of which need not be judicial officers or lawyers; and (f) a written statement by the factfinders as to the evidence relied on and reasons for revoking parole." Morrissey, 408 U.S. at 489.

         It necessarily follows that Mr. Jefferson was entitled to each of the just-quoted requirements at his final parole revocation hearings.

         However, in Morrissey, the Supreme Court specifically opted not to pass on "the question whether the parolee is entitled to the assistance of retained counsel or to appointed counsel if he is indigent." Id. The United States Supreme Court has never held that a parolee is entitled in every case to representation by an attorney at a final parole revocation hearing; rather, that Court has held that "the decision as to the need for counsel must be made on a case-by-case basis in the exercise of a sound discretion by the state authority charged with responsibility for administering the probation and parole system." Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778, 790 (1973).[7] The Supreme Court went on to explain that "[a]lthough the presence and participation of counsel will probably be both undesirable and constitutionally unnecessary in most revocation hearings, there will remain certain cases in which fundamental fairness-the touchstone of due process-will require that the State provide at its expense counsel for indigent probationers or parolees." Id. The Supreme Court further stated, in Gagnon, that:

"Presumptively, it may be said that counsel should be provided in cases where, after being informed of his right to request counsel, the probationer or parolee makes such a request, based on a timely and colorable claim * * * that, even if the violation is a matter of public record or is uncontested, there are substantial reasons which justified or mitigated the violation and make revocation inappropriate, and that the reasons are complex or otherwise difficult to develop or present." Gagnon, 411 U.S. at 790; see also United States v. Dodson, 25 F.3d 385, ...

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