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Parole Revocation Invalidated Due to Multilayered Hearsay Testimony

A District of Columbia federal district court denied a habeas corpus petition filed by prisoner Charles Singletary, who then appealed. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that Singletary’s parole revocation could not be based upon multilayered hearsay testimony. As a result, the Court reversed and remanded for a new revocation hearing.

In January 1983, Singletary began serving a nine to twenty-seven year sentence for robbery, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. He was granted parole in June 1990, but was arrested for murder in June 1995. The murder charge never proceeded to a grand jury and was dismissed. The District of Columbia Board of Parole, however, held a hearing to consider revoking Singletary’s parole in July 1996. His parole was revoked on the basis of testimony from the investigating detective and an Assistant United States Attorney. Their testimony consisted of reciting what witnesses in the murder case had stated.

Parole revocation violates due process if the decision is “either totally lacking evidentiary support or … so irrational as to be fundamentally unfair,” the appellate court stated. While “reliance on hearsay in parole revocation hearings is not per se impermissible,” the Court noted “the use of unsubstantiated or unreliable hearsay would certainly eviscerate the safeguards guaranteed by” due process case precedents.

Before relying on hearsay, parole authorities must assure there is a sufficient indicia of reliable under the circumstances. The Court found reliability to be lacking in this case. “Almost all the evidence at the hearing was hearsay. Much of it multilayered,” the Court said. There was no opportunity for Singletary to cross-examine the witnesses that the statements were attributed to; there were discrepancies in the testimony; and the parole board was not aware of the identities of the witnesses, giving it no way to resolve credibility issues.

The Court of Appeals held that while “the government is not required to carry a heavy burden in such proceedings, it cannot return a parolee to prison based on a record as shoddy as this one.” The district court’s ruling was reversed and a new parole revocation hearing was ordered. See: Singletary v. Reilly, 452 F.3d 868 (D.C. Cir. 2006).

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Related legal case

Singletary v. Reilly