Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Texas Parole Law Remanded for Ex Post Facto Ruling

By Gary Hunter

Texas prisoner Wilson Brown, a convicted sex offender, went to prison in 1989. At the time Brown was convicted, all Texas prisoners required only two favorable votes to make parole. In 1993, the parole board was expanded to 18 members and prospectively required capital offenders to obtain 12 favorable votes to make parole. In 1995, the 12-vote standard was applied retroactively to include both capital offenders and sex offenders. In 2001, Brown was denied parole under the retroactive standard.

Brown filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1983) claim in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. He alleged that the Board of Pardons and Paroles unconstitutionally applied the wrong procedure to deny him parole. Brown further contended that the 1995 parole law violated the ex post facto, due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
The federal District Court concluded that Brown's claim was improperly filed as a § 1983 suit and construed it as a habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court denied Brown's claims for relief under the one-year statute of limitations of the Anti-terrorist Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). The court then required Brown to seek a Certificate of Appealability (COA) to continue his claim.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision of the district court on three of the four claims. The appeals court ruled that Brown's claim asserting the parole board applied the wrong procedure was properly construed by the district court as a habeas issue and denied a COA.

The appeals court also found that because Texas prisoners do not have a liberty interest in parole, Brown was not entitled to relief under the due process clause.

Third, the appellate court held that Brown failed to establish that sex offenders were a suspect class or that they had been deprived of a fundamental right. The court deemed that a legitimate penalogical interest justified treating sex offenders differently.

However, the Fifth Circuit held that Brown's ex post facto claim was properly raised as a § 1983 civil action, applying the standard of Wilkinson v. Dotson, 125 S.Ct. 1242 (2005), which held that a § 1983 claim is proper for issues that only challenge procedure and do not necessarily require immediate release.

Additionally, Brown's claim was not time-barred under the two-year statute of limitations for § 1983 claims. The Fifth Circuit remanded his claim back to the district court for a ruling on the ex post facto issue. See: Brown v. Dretke, 184 Fed.Appx. 384 (5th Cir. 2006) (unpublished).

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Brown v. Dretke