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U.S. Parole Commission Rules are “Laws” for Ex Post Facto

U.S. Parole Commission Rules are "Laws" for Ex Post Facto

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit held that a lower court incorrectly concluded that new parole regulations were not "laws" for ex post facto purposes.

In 1997, Congress transferred responsibility for "all felons convicted under the District of Columbia (DC) code from the city to the federal government." Parole decisions were transferred from the DC Board of Parole (Board) to the United States Parole Commission (Commission).

The Board's regulations "placed significant weight on post-incarceration behavior, including rehabilitative accomplishments, in making release determinations." The Commission adopted new federal regulations to replace the Board's regulations. The new regulations focused exclusively on pre-incarceration factors, de-emphasizing any rehabilitative results during incarceration.

Thaddeus A. Fletcher was convicted of a felony in 1980 and subsequently released on parole by the Board. In 1998, Fletcher was convicted of a new felony in Maryland and his DC parole was revoked. When Fletcher was considered for re-parole in 2000, the Commission applied the new regulations and "declined to consider his post-incarceration behavior, such as rehabilitative accomplishments, in weighing his entitlement to re-parole."

Fletcher filed a federal habeas corpus petition, alleging that the retroactive application of the new federal regulations during his 2000 hearing violated the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution. He asserted that under the previous Board rules, his rehabilitative accomplishments would have been considered.

The district court denied relief, concluding that the rules were not "laws" for ex post facto purposes. The DC Circuit reversed, explaining that it had "squarely rejected" the district court's position in Fletcher v. District of Columbia, 391 F.3d 250 (DC Cir. 2004).
Therefore, the court remanded "to afford the District Court an opportunity to review Fletcher's petition under" the proper analytical framework. The court also suggested "that the district court may have read Fletcher's petition too narrowly," and stated the "petition alleges a stronger claim" than the district court recognized. See: Fletcher v. Reilly, 433 F.3d 867 (DC Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Fletcher v. Reilly