Chuck Lindell wrote an excellent piece recently in the Austin American Statesman:“For prison inmate a "not guilty" verdict did not mean freedom; State parole system can trump a jury’s verdict with its own.”
In it, he highlights one of the biggest problems with Texas’ parole system: parolees sent back to prison after being acquitted of new charges against them.
Texas criminal defense attorneys are used to this, but it shocks most folks that find themselves caught up in Texas’ parole system.
Let’s start with the legal basis for it. A “Not Guilty” verdict means that the jury has found that the State failed to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. While there’s no exact percentage assignable to that burden of prove, it is undoubtedly higher than the “preponderance of the evidence” standard used in parole hearings.
So let’s say theoretically that a Not Guilty verdict meant that the jury didn’t believe that the State showed them a 95% certainty that a parolee was guilty of a new offense. That doesn’t legally preclude the Parole Board from determining that he is probably, or more likely than 50% guilty of it. (Never mind for now that some juries set awfully low standards for “beyond a reasonable doubt”.)
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has consistently upheld the backwards logic that allows the Parole Board to revoke acquitted and possibly actually innocent defendants. From a purely mathematical standpoint, the Court is correct that a jury verdict of not guilty doesn’t meet the necessary requirements of “collateral estoppel” and that the parolee can be revoked and sent back to prison.
But this should offend our collective notions of justice. The blogosphere has picked up this story and run with it. For other law blog commentary on this particular case see: Houston’s Clear Thinkers, TalkLeft, Eye Witness Identification Reform, Right Voices, Later On, Legal Juice, DebsWeb, All That In Our World.