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Name: In re Palmer
Case #: A147177
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 07/26/2017

Board of Parole Hearings’ refusal to calculate base and adjusted base term at inmate’s parole hearing entitles youthful offender to new hearing. In 1988, when he was 17 years old, Palmer pleaded guilty to kidnapping for robbery. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole and has since been denied parole 10 times. At his most recent parole hearing in June 2015, the Board issued a five-year denial of parole and refused Palmer’s request to calculate his base term and adjusted base term, stating it did not set terms for youthful offenders. Palmer filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, arguing the settlement terms of In re Butler (2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 122 required calculation of his base and adjusted base terms. After the court issued an order to show cause, the Board calculated Palmer’s base term and adjusted based term. Held: Petition granted. The Butler settlement requires the Board to set the base terms and adjusted base terms for life inmates at their initial parole consideration hearing, or in their next scheduled parole consideration hearing that results in a grant of parole, denial of parole, a tie vote, or a stipulated denial of parole. Unlike the parole suitability determination, which focuses on current dangerousness, the setting of the base term is designed to insure that life prisoners do not serve terms disproportionate to their individual culpability. The adjusted base term indicates the point at which a denial of parole will result in constitutionally excessive punishment, and the Board must consider the relationship between the adjusted base term and time served before denying parole. Here, the Board did not calculate Palmer’s base and adjusted base term until after it issued a five-year denial of parole so the issue of excessive punishment was not factored into the term of the Board’s denial. Palmer’s June 2015 parole hearing did not comport with Butler and the Court of Appeal ordered the Board to conduct a new hearing in light of the terms it now has set for Palmer. [Editor’s Note: Justice Kline filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, agreeing that Palmer is entitled to a new hearing but questioning whether it is proper for the Board to apply the same base term criteria to youth offenders as it does to adult offenders, an issue the court expressly declined to address. In Justice Kline’s opinion, the base term for youth offenders should be adjusted to reflect the “diminished culpability” of juveniles as compared to adults.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: