Sunday, January 15, 2012

35-mile parole buffer doesn’t apply to victim’s next of kin

When a prisoner is paroled after serving time for a violent crime, California law allows the crime victim or a witness to ask the state for a buffer zone requiring the parolee to live at least 35 miles away. Prison officials invoked that law in 2010 to bar Terrance David from moving in with his ailing mother in Burbank, 26 miles away from the sister of a woman who was killed when David, while driving under the influence of PCP, slammed into her car in 1986.

The parole board has independent authority to impose conditions on newly released inmates to protect the public and might have reasonably prohibited David from living in or near the same community as the victim’s sister, said Justice Richard Mosk in the majority opinion. In dissent, Sanjay Kumar, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge temporarily assigned to the appeals court, accused the majority of rewriting the law and contributing to the mental anguish of the victim’s sister.

At the parole hearing, the court said, David expressed remorse and apologized to the victims’ families, and Coral’s sister, Elizabeth, said she and her family had forgiven him. In Friday’s ruling, Mosk said the law authorizing the 35-mile buffer zone, passed more than 20 years ago, refers to a request by a “victim or witness” whose safety or well-being is at risk. Even if his victim’s sister was covered by the law, Mosk said, there is no evidence that David posed any threat to her safety or well-being. David’s lawyer, Richard Pfeiffer, said the ruling would affect many other cases, because prison officials “routinely” order such restrictions without evidence that a parolee poses a threat to a victim’s family. He said David, a young man who used drugs and drove recklessly before his conviction, behaved well in prison and is now attending law school and getting top grades.