by Carly Rheilan
After the tragic outcome of attempts to introduce parole reform last year (legislation passed by House and Senate but vetoed by Governor Reeves), this year’s reform offerings are more modest.
This is our understaning of HB 525 as it stands at 08 March 2021. (Note – earlier versions of this bill were more far reaching, but the bill has been watered down in committee. It may be that this is to avoid the situation where Governor Reeves vetoes AGAIN. If the bill is passed as it now stands, we will continue to press for further reforming legislation in future years.)
Line references relate to the Bill as amended and then passed by the Senate on March 02, 2021, reproduced here. Readers are advised to check on the official website for any subsequent amendments or developments. (http://www.legislature.ms.gov/legislation/measure-search/)
We are informed lay people and not lawyers. Nothing on this page or website constitutes legal advice. If any reader wishes to discuss these issues further or believes that we have misunderstood or misrepresented any part of this bill, we would be very happy to discuss it with them. Please contact us using our contact page.
Where HB 525 currently stands
The bill has been passed (after amendment) by both the House and the Senate. As it currently stands – much amended by both Houses – it contains a “Reverse Repealer”. This is a legal device which means that further rounds of consultation and further votes by House and Senate are required before it can be passed. THIS BILL HAS NOT PASSED INTO LAW AT THIS STAGE..
What HB 525 currently offers.
Items in the bill which would add parole eligibility or reduce the period before parole can be considered, are highlighted green below.
Note: Parole eligibility means that the offender can apply for parole, not that they will automatically get it.
Any inmate who is eligible for parole currently will remain eligible if this act is passed : some inmates may have enhanced parole eligibility if this Act is passed, but no parole eligibility would be removed by this Act (lines 204-208)
Persons under 25 at the time of their offence
Parole eligibility after 25 years served, unless eligible earlier (lines 104-118)
- Excludes any person who has been sentenced for a double or multiple killing, committed as part of the same event
- Excludes sex offenders other than those who committed statutory rape when under 19 years.
Provided the “under 25 at the time of the offense” criterion is met, and neither of the exclusions above applies, this clause, as currently set out….
- does NOT exclude homicide (capital or otherwise) or other violent offenses. (Thus it effectively ends “Life Without Parole” for offenders aged under 25 at the time of their offence)
- does NOT exclude death row offenders, (who would become eligible for parole if not executed after 25 years incarceration)
- does NOT exclude habitual offenders.
Note on the Legal wording of this clause and its relationship to the rest of the Bill
This is a “Notwithstanding any other provision of law” clause. What this means, is that it OVERRIDES earlier statements in the bill which exclude homicide offenders, habitual offenders etc from parole eligibility. Those statements do not apply to persons under 25 at the time of their offense.
For anyone who is interested in the issue of “notwithstanding any other provision of law” clauses, this is discussed at length in this USA Supreme Court ruling on another matter – search for “notwithstanding” in the text: https://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/15-1251-amicus-respondent-Chamber-of-Commerce.pdf
Non-violent habitual offenders
May be considered for parole after 25% of sentence served if this is agreed by the original sentencing judge (or a designated alternative senior judge if the original judge is no longer available.) (lines 155-165) (Note: this is another “notwithstanding” clause – see above – and overrides the earlier section which simply says that habitual offenders are not eligible for parole)
Offenders 25 or over at time of their offense
Persons sentenced before July 1994 have access to parole unless sentenced to death or to Life Without Parole (Section 1 of the existing 47-7-3, which is not repealed by this bill).
For those sentenced later, the bill leaves the following groups with no access to parole, if the offense was committed at age 25 or over:
- Any person sentenced as a habitual offender (lines 41-43)
- Any sex offender unless the offense was statutory rape committed when under 19 years old (lines 44-47)
- Any person convicted of a capital offense after July 1 1994 (lines 48-53)
- Any person sentenced to life without parole (lines 48-53)
- Any person convicted of murder in the first degree after June 30 1995 (lines 55-58)
- Any person convicted of murder in the second degree (lines 55-58)
- Any person convicted of human trafficking if offense committed after July 1 2014 (lines 59-62)
- Any person convicted of drug trafficking and aggravated trafficking (the legislation currently says “and” – not clear whether this implies “and/or”) (lines 63-65)
- Any person convicted of an offense which specifically prohibits parole release (lines 66-69)
Other offenders convicted after June 30, 1995 who would be eligible for parole under this bill
The bill would allow access to parole for the following, UNLESS any of the exclusions above apply.
- Nonviolent and nonhabitual drug offenses sentenced after June 30, 1995, for which sentencing ranges have subsequently been reduced – eligible for parole after serving 25% of the maximum sentence which could be imposed for the same conviction(s) as of July 1, 2021, if this would bring forward their parole eligibility compared to their eligibility when sentenced (lines 119-126)
- Inmates over 60 serving sentences for non-violent, non-habitual offenses, NOT convicted of drug trafficking or a sex offense – parole eligibility after 10 years or 25% of sentence served, whichever is LATER.
- Other nonviolent crimes – parole eligibility after 25% of sentence served or after 10 years if sentenced to 30 years or more (lines 75-80)
- Robbery with a deadly weapon committed after June 30 1995, parole eligibility after 30 years or 75% of sentence, whichever less (lines 88-92; lines 99-103)
- Other violent offenses committed after June 30 1995 and before July 1 2014, parole eligibility after 50% served or 20 years, whichever is less (lines 81-87)
- Other violent offences committed on or after July 1 2014, parole eligibility after 50% or 30 years, whichever is less (lines 93-99)
These minimums refer to the whole sentence imposed by the court and cannot be undercut by any “earned time”, “good time” or “trusty time” that the offender may have earned. (lines 267 – 287)
Remainder of the Bill
Remaining sections of the bill deal with arrangements for managing parole decisions, various additional requirements that must be met (eg a face to face parole board hearing for certain offenses) and arrangements for setting up the Parole Board.
We will produce a more detailed analysis of this if the bill passes into law.