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California Court of Appeals Affirms Grant of Parole

The Fourth District Court of Appeals for the State of California affirmed in May 2012 the grant of a writ of habeas corpus filed by prisoner William Jon Pugh contesting the governor’s reversal of a grant of parole. Pugh was convicted of second degree murder in 1986 and given a life sentence.

The initial incident evolved from Pugh stealing $30 in pennies from Donald Fields, the roommate of Pugh’s best friend. Fields barred Pugh from the apartment. Pugh went there to convince Fields that he was innocent of the theft, even though he did steal the pennies. The murder of Fields occurred.

The Board of Parole hearings for California granted parole in October 2009. The governor of California reversed that decision the next month. Pugh filed a writ of habeas corpus, which was granted in trial court. He was released in December 2010. S.M. Salinas, the warden of Pugh’s last housing institution filed the instant appeal.

Appellant Salinas asserted that the circumstances of the offense supported the conclusion that the prisoner posed an unreasonable risk to public safety. The court of appeals pointed out that the applicable case law states ‘continues’ to pose an unreasonable risk to public safety, and that Pugh’s institutional records and later psychological tests and interviews show just the opposite: Pugh has owned up to his guilt and accepted his punishment and expressed a readiness to get on with his life.

Appellant Warden Salinas further asserted on the part of Pugh (1) a lack of insight into his crime as evidenced by varied depictions of the crime, (2) Pugh’s continued denial of culpability, and (3) problematic psychological evaluations. The record, however, showed a diametric opposite on the first and third points, and the non-germane nature of the second.

Governor Schwarzenegger in his review and reversal of grant of parole relied on outdated evaluations and a version of the facts of the case that were provided by the prosecution and did not fit with the evidence.

The court of appeals determined that the 'some evidence' standard for complicity with appellant’s assertion was lacking and the judgment of the trial court reinstating parole was affirmed. See: In re Pugh, 205 Cal.App.4th 260, 140 Cal.Rptr.3d 194 (Cal.App. 3 Dist., 2012).

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Related legal case

In re Pugh