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California Parole Board Ordered to Set Lifer's Term

By John E. Dannenberg

The California Court of Appeal ordered the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) to conduct a new parole hearing for a second-degree murderer within 30 days, wherein they were required to set his parole date.

Ronald Singler has been incarcerated since 1982 for the second-degree murder of his wife, sentenced to 15-years-to-life. He was found suitable in 1996, but this was rescinded by the BPH as "improvidently granted" in a politically-driven plot to deny lifer paroles. Again, in 2005, the BPH found him suitable, but the Governor - who "reviews" all of the few grants of lifer paroles, while disapproving about 90% of them - reversed the grant. At his next hearing in 2006, Singler was denied parole, and filed a habeas action in superior court.

After the superior court denied relief, Singler petitioned the Court of Appeal, which initially denied relief. However, on petition for review, the State Supreme Court ordered the appellate court to issue an order to show cause and hear the case. That court then found in Singler's favor and ordered him to have a new hearing wherein the BPH should find him suitable and set his term. The BPH appealed to the California Supreme Court, which granted review/hold until it decided the two lead cases then pending on lifer paroles, In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181 (2008) and In re Shaputis, 44 Cal.4th 1241 (2008). After those were decided in August 2008, the Supreme Court vacated Singler and remanded to the appellate court for reconsideration.

On remand, the appellate court came to the same conclusion as before, noting that as provided in Lawrence, the facts alone of the commitment offense did not themselves confer a current unreasonable risk of danger to society if released. Since there were admittedly no other statutory or regulatory factors arguing against parole, the court declined the BPH's invitation to resubmit the matter to the Governor.

In December 2008, the BPH conducted the obligatory hearing and found Singler suitable. The decision will be final in March 2009, at which time it will be again sent to the Governor for review. If released at that time, Singler will have served 27 years on his 15-life sentence, without any in-prison infractions and with no prior criminal record whatsoever. See: In re Singler, California Court of Appeal, 169 Cal.App.4th 1227, (3rd Dist. 2008).

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Related legal case

In re Singler, California Court of Appeal