HELENA (AP) Rodney West did not get a proper parole hearing before the state Board of Pardons when he was allowed to plead his case to just one member, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled.
In a 5-2 decision, the court said West must be given a chance to appear before enough board members so that those who decide his case will have done so based on a personal interview. That is necessary to preserve an inmates rights, the justices held.
Since the law requires that board decisions be made by a majority of its five members, West must have an opportunity to meet with at least three members.
West was convicted of theft in 1988, sentenced to 40 years in prison and designated a persistent offender.
He claimed he was being illegally imprisoned because of the Dec. 27 flawed parole hearing, which resulted in him being denied release.
The state argued the board was allowed to delegate parole interviews to one member, which it did in Wests case. The government said no violation of Wests rights occurred because all board members ultimately participated in decision denying him parole.
Also, the state cited a 1998 high court order saying not all board members need be present for a personal interview with an inmate.
While such arguments can apply to a pre-hearing interview, that does not relieve the board of its constitutional duty to provide due process for inmates, the court said.
The justices concluded that it is not adequate for the board to provide an interview by fewer members than were required to decide his application for parole.
They also noted a discrepancy in the paperwork involving Wests case. The boards version has the signatures of two members, even though only one interviewed the inmate, the court said. Wests copy contained only one name.
Chief Justice Karla Gray and Justice Jim Rice dissented, saying West was given an adequate chance to personally present his case for parole. The practical problems posed by scattered locations of inmates and a parole board composed of citizen members is enough reason for the board to be allowed to delegate interviews to just one member, they said.
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