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Pennsylvania Parole Board May Not Condition Parole of Sex Offender on Admission of Guilt Due to Ex Post Facto Violation

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that in denying parole to convicted sex offender Louis Mickens-Thomas for his refusal to participate in a sex offender program that required he admit his guilt, the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole retrospectively subjected him to a statutory requirement that did not exist at the time of his conviction, in violation of the constitutional proscription against ex post facto laws. In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeals granted Mickens-Thomas, now 82, unconditional habeas corpus relief.

Mickens-Thomas was convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl in 1966, a crime for which he has stead-fastly maintained his innocence. His life sentence was commuted in 1995 and he became eligible for parole a year later. His parole applications were repeatedly denied by the Board, however, with each denial predicated on pre-1996 statutory requirements enacted after Mickens-Thomas’ conviction; namely, that before being granted parole he must complete a treatment program and in the process admit his guilt.

In December 1999, Mickens-Thomas filed a habeas corpus petition alleging that his parole applications had been denied in violation of the ex post facto clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court granted his petition in 2002 and the Third Circuit affirmed that decision, remanding the matter to the Board to conduct parole proceedings consistent with pre-1996 policies and guidelines. See: Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn, 321 F.3d 374 (3d Cir. 2003).

However, the Board defied the appellate court’s instruction to discontinue its “manipulation of hitherto insignificant factors,” and after Mickens-Thomas filed a second habeas petition the Third Circuit granted him unconditional relief. See: Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn, 355 F.3d 294 (3d Cir. 2004) [PLN, June 2004, p.24].

For more than a year after his release Mickens-Thomas complied with the terms of his parole, which included participation in a treatment program. In June 2004, he self-reported that he had kissed a woman at church against her will – misconduct that resulted in his discharge from the treatment program and subsequent arrest as a technical parole violator.

The Board ordered Mickens-Thomas to serve nine months of “backtime” in prison. He did so, but then was repeatedly denied re-parole – as before, due to his failure to successfully complete a sex offender program that required him to admit guilt to his original conviction. He filed a motion asking the district court to enforce the previous habeas corpus judgment, or alternatively for habeas corpus relief, which was denied.

On appeal, the Third Circuit found the Board’s refusal to re-parole Mickens-Thomas was “in direct contravention” of the appellate court’s 2004 decision, and ordered that he be released on parole “forthwith.” See: Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn, 407 Fed.Appx. 597 (3d Cir. 2011) (unpublished).

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Related legal cases

Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn

Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn

Mickens-Thomas v. Vaughn