Monthly Archives: July 2014

Understanding The Meaning of “Parole Eligible”

I have met many, many inmates who, while facing criminal charges, accepted a plea agreement on the advice of their attorneys, rather than fight the charges against them. Often, this is very prudent advice, especially where the agreed upon length of the sentence is for a period of years that is reasonable, or even generous, under the circumstances. However, all too often, people are deceived into believing that they will be back home on parole very quickly.  When such promises are made to induce a person to plead guilty and end the fight, the accused (and his/her family) later discover a cruel reality; being eligible for parole has absolutely nothing to do with whether one actually makes parole.

The words “Parole Eligible” or “Eligible for Parole” should never be seen as the date that a person is going to be released on parole.  In fact, it’s far more complicated than what a person accused of a crime is told when deciding whether to accept a plea agreement.

Although there are many, many reasons one might not make parole, I see three general themes that tend to account for the reason(s) why well over half of the people who are initially eligible for parole do not tend to make it on their first try.

First, there are the cases where the offender has been in trouble outside of prison many times over a period of many years, and therefore may be seen to have squandered past opportunities and breaks that were bestowed upon them.

The second major category of inmates who are denied parole on their first opportunity are those who have had either serious major disciplinary cases in prison within the previous few years, or have simply had too many minor cases in the recent past.  These people are seen by the Board as either not being worthy of the parole privilege because, as the theory goes, if a person breaks the rules and gets in trouble in prison, the liklihood is even higher that this person will break rules and get in trouble in the free world.

Another category of offender who will generally not make parole on the initial eligibility date are those people for whom the offense(s) are particularly serious, and may also involve loss of life or serious injuries, and/or victim protests.

I hope this informs you a little better about why the prosecutors or defense lawyers at the courthouse really have no idea at all whether a specific inmate will make parole, or even when this might take place.

None of the three above general scenarios should be taken as being an absolute bar to making parole. However, it is definitely a more difficult path if one or more of the scenarios above is present.

I believe that the inmate-attorney interview is the best place and time for me to start thinking of all the details that might sway the voters to parole any given client.  Therefore, while gathering information, I am often looking for clues and insights that might make any given client a stronger candidate for parole, regardless of whether it is the first parole review date, or any date thereafter.

“But You’re Not a Dallas Parole Attorney”

I recently received an email from a lady from the Plano, Texas area.  Plano is a suburban area north of Dallas.  Her son is incarcerated in TDCJ, at a prison facility located about 20 or 30 miles southeast of Austin.  In her email, she brought up a point I have always wanted to address in a blog post.

The lady who emailed me seemed very intelligent, and she was definitely a detail oriented person, which is almost always a good thing.  She explained that her son was given my name by one of my former clients who had already made parole, and was now awaiting the much awaited release.  She expressed genuine interest in hiring me to represent her son. However, she also expressed a very sincere concern that I wasn’t a “Dallas Parole Attorney”.

When I called her, we spoke about her son’s current situation, and I explained the basic steps we would need to take in order for me to represent her son.  In addition to sending him a detailed questionnaire to fill out, I told her I would also need to schedule and conduct an interview with him at his prison unit after the completed questionnaire was received by my office.  She decided that neither she nor her son would want to make the important decision about who would be best equipped to represent her son until after her son had the opportunity to meet whoever was being considered.  She then told me that she had just assumed all parole lawyers would want to collect their fee for representing someone before ever being willing to open a case file and then make the trip to go out to a far away prison.

She was happy to learn that, at my office, there was no upfront costs or obligations,  except for an interview fee of $285.  This fee is simply to help cover some of my time and travel costs associated with opening a prospective client file, reviewing the questionnaire and any related paperwork we had received, and then scheduling a trip to go travel to (and from) her son’s prison for the interview.

Only after our interview had concluded would she and her son be making any sort of final decision about whether I was the right person to represent him before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.  As we were about to end our call, she thanked me for calling her back and discussing her son’s situation with her.  I then asked her why she had previously indicated via email that her son’s legal needs would be best served by having a Dallas parole lawyer.  Here’s what she told me…

Since she was in the Dallas area, and since her son’s conviction occurred in the Dallas area, she had just assumed that the person best suited to help her son would be one of the parole attorneys in Dallas.  Here’s why her assumption didn’t make sense to me.

First and foremost, unlike the court proceedings, her son’s parole consideration will not be made in Dallas.  In his case, based on where he is presently incarcerated, the Austin Board Office would review his file and officials there will make the parole determination.

Second, I firmly believe that a parole attorney cannot usually have the best opportunity to effectively advocate to the Parole Board officials if that attorney has never interviewed the client.  The client is the person sitting in prison.  Therefore, since the client cannot come to the parole lawyer’s office, the lawyer must be willing to go to the prison. Accordingly, the location of the parole lawyers office is far less important than whether the lawyer is willing to get in his/her car and go to the client.  After all, it is the lawyer who is responsible for knowing all the critical questions to ask, especially the follow up questions arising from the answers to all the prior questions.  In my experience, that job is not one a lawyer should ever delegate to someone else.

Third, I honestly don’t know of a single qualified parole attorney in Dallas.  I am quite sure there are a few excellent attorneys in Dallas who have handled the occasional parole case, but through all of my inquiries over the years, I have not been made aware of any true parole attorneys in Dallas, i.e. those who limit their practice to handling parole cases only. Instead, the few names I have been made aware of in the Dallas area are lawyers whose practice and expertise is first and foremost centered around being a criminal defense attorney at the courthouses in the metropolitan area and the surrounding counties.  To me, this is an extremely important point.  Over time, I have regularly traveled to nearly all of the prisons in TDCJ, and I have represented hundreds of clients in the state’s seven Parole Board offices.  During these years of specialized practice, unique experience and familiarity with the many subtle nuances has emerged.  Even the slight differences in the way different prisons or Board Offices and their personnel handle certain situations can become important.

Similarly, any intelligent lawyer who is down at the courthouse almost every morning in connection with criminal cases will develop a keen awareness of many little details of the process that other attorneys simply do not recognize until they too are putting in the daily commitment of time and effort associated with this specialized type of work.

The one unspoken reason that I think this lady from Plano wanted to seek out a parole attorney in Dallas was that she wanted to meet him or her in person.  This feeling is not only entirely understandable, it is also prudent.  It just feels better to meet someone and sit with them in a face to face meeting, despite how easy it is to speak on the phone. There’s a comfort factor there that is undeniable.  Because of this, I am presently making arrangements with a good friend of mine from back in law school who has an office in Dallas.  He has graciously agreed to allow me to use either one of his two law office conference rooms anytime I need to schedule a meeting with someone, as long as the meeting is scheduled sufficiently in advance so that we do not double book either one of his conference room spaces.

I will someday look to do the same thing in Houston, and I am also exploring the possibility of having a video conferencing link with such facilities in both cities, in order to accommodate those who want a quicker face to face meeting with me while trying to seek out a parole attorney.  However, in the end, the most important face to face meeting is, and always will be, the one that occurs between a parole attorney and his client sitting in prison.