Many similar cases expected unless Legislature intervenes
One of the first challenges to Arizona’s unlawful denial of parole eligibility to a person whose sentence included the possibility of parole was filed Friday in Maricopa County Superior Court by the Arizona Justice Project and the Post-Conviction Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law.
Similar cases could swamp courts across the state unless the Legislature acts swiftly to address the issue.
“People who were given sentences with the possibility of parole should not have that opportunity pulled out from under them,” said ACLU of Arizona Legal Director Kathy Brody. “The Arizona Department of Corrections needs to adhere to the terms of these sentences; anything less is a gross violation of an individual’s rights. People should not be held to sentences that are harsher than what was approved by a judge.”
Arizona eliminated parole in 1994 but, according to The Arizona Republic, hundreds of people have since been given sentences that included the possibility of parole after 25 or 35 years of imprisonment.
“All of these individuals, including dozens who took plea deals, have an understanding that they have an opportunity at parole and their legal claims are likely to flood the courts in the next few years unless the state takes action to fix this problem,” said Lindsay Herf, executive director of the Arizona Justice Project. “This injustice could easily be fixed by the legislature, otherwise costly and time-consuming litigation that will tie up the courts is the only solution.”
The petition filed today was submitted on behalf of Abelardo Chaparro, who was sentenced in 1996 to life without the possibility of parole for 25 years. In accordance with his sentence, Mr. Chaparro should be eligible for parole consideration in June 2020. The Arizona Department of Corrections, however, has said that it will not certify him for parole eligibility because the offense for which he was convicted occurred after parole was abolished.
“Parole eligibility provides people with a tangible hope of restoring their most basic liberties and encourages people to better themselves while they’re imprisoned,” said Amy Kalman, president of Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an association of criminal defense lawyers. “By locking people up and throwing away the key, even for people who were promised parole, Arizona eliminates incentives for good behavior and rehabilitation.”
A bill recently introduced in the Legislature, SB 1211, aims to address this issue but falls short. This proposal only provides a remedy for a small subset of parole eligibility cases. It also requires people granted parole to remain on parole for the remainder of their lives even though that requirement was not in place at the time of sentencing. Finally, this bill applies to people who were sentenced after Jan. 1, 1994, when the parole eligibility problem relates to people who were convicted of offenses that occurred on or after that date.