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Change in Texas Parole Law May Be Ex Post Facto Violation

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a change in Texas parole laws requiring a two-thirds majority vote of the entire board for certain prisoners may violate the Ex Post Facto clause when applied retroactively to prisoners whose crimes occurred prior to the change in the law.

Richard Delaney Kyles, a Texas state prisoner, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1975. Under the law in effect at the time he committed the crime, Kyles was required to receive a simple majority vote of a parole panel to be released on parole after serving a minimum twenty years in prison. In 1993, the Texas legisla-ture enacted a law requiring prisoners with capital life sentences or sex offense convictions to receive a two-thirds su-per-majority of the entire parole board before being released on parole. In 1995 the Texas Parole Board began apply-ing the statute retroactively.

Kyles became eligible for parole in 1995. Twice he received two out of the first three parole board votes, but did not receive a super-majority of the entire board. After exhausting state remedies he filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the change in the parole law violated the Ex Post Facto clause when retroactively applied.

The district court dismissed the suit on the grounds that it was frivolous and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Kyles appealed.

On March 15, 2007, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Kyles had stated a non-frivolous claim both with re-gard to the change in the law, which required a larger percentage of parole board member votes, and as applied to him, since under the previous law he would have been released when two of the first three board members voted to release him on parole.

The Fifth Circuit held that the danger of increased imprisonment was not speculative or attenuated in this case since it resulted in Kyles not being granted parole when he otherwise would have been. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the dismissal and returned the case to the district court for further proceedings. See: Kyles v. Garrett, 222 Fed.Appx. 427 (5th Cir. 2007) (unpublished).

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Related legal case

Kyles v. Garrett