Board of Parole Hearing’s denial of parole vacated where record reflects no support for Board’s finding that defendant had no insight into his crime and therefore posed a threat to public safety. In 1988, Poole was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 20 years to life for a shooting he committed when he was 19 years old. The Board of Parole Hearings denied parole in April 2017, concluding that Poole lacked insight into the reasons for his crime, which was contrary to the opinions of the psychologists who assessed him in 2010, 2015, and 2017. Poole petitioned for writ of habeas corpus. Held: Board decision vacated and matter remanded for a new parole suitability hearing. Penal Code section 3041 mandates that the Board set a parole date for an eligible inmate unless it determines that an inmate poses a current threat to public safety. The presence or absence of insight is a significant factor in determining whether there is a rational nexus between the inmate’s dangerous past behavior and the threat the inmate currently poses to public safety. The sole issue of contention at Poole’s suitability hearing was his reason for the shooting and whether he gained insight into his crime during his incarceration. Poole told the Board that he fired the gun into the victim’s car because he perceived it to be an obstacle, had grown up learning to respond to problems with violence, and did not value his life. He had wanted to impress his associates in the car with him and thought that shooting at the victim’s car would enhance his image as a tough, violent drug dealer. He recognized that none of this made logical sense but it was what he thought at the time, which he attributed to his need to overcome the lack of self-esteem and self-worth he had felt as a child by making himself a powerful and dangerous figure in the criminal life he adopted. According to the Court of Appeal, it was “unclear what greater insight the Board could have been looking for.” Furthermore, the Board failed to adequately consider youth factors of diminished culpability as required by Penal Code section 4801. The Court of Appeal vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case for a new parole suitability hearing consistent with this decision.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A152341.PDF