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Name: In re Dannenberg
Case #: S111029
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 01/24/2005

Apepllant is serving a sentence of 15 years to life for the second degree murder of his wife in 1985. In 1999, the Board of Prison Terms declined to grant him a release date, concluding that the circumstances of his crime showed a continuing public danger because the murder was “especially callous and cruel” and committed for a trivial reason. (The victim was beaten with a pipe wrench during a domestic argument, and then drowned in a bathtub.) The Board made its determination based on the circumstances of the crime without measuring it against other homicides or against its own uniform term norms for second degree murderers. The Court of Appeal held that the Board had proceeded incorrectly and remanded for a new hearing. The Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the Board may refuse a parole date on this ground only after evaluating the offender’s crime against other similar ones and against its own “matrices” or whether it need conduct a comparative analysis only after it determines suitability. The Court in this opinion concluded that the Board may protect public safety in each case by considering the crime individually. While it must point to factors beyond the minimum elements of the crime, it need not engage in a comparative analysis before concluding that the facts of the offense make it unsafe to fix a date for parole release. Therefore, the Court of Appeal’s judgment was reversed, because the Board’s decision to deny Dannenberg parole comports with the law.