Connecticut Bd. of Pardons v. Dumschat

PETITIONER: Connecticut Bd. of Pardons
LOCATION: City of San Diego

DOCKET NO.: 79-1997
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 452 US 458 (1981)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1981

Stephen J. O'Neill - on behalf of the Petitioners
Stephen Wizner - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Connecticut Bd. of Pardons v. Dumschat

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 1981 in Connecticut Bd. of Pardons v. Dumschat

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments now in Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat.

Mr. O'Neill, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Stephen J. O'Neill:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The issue in this case is, has the practice of the Connecticut Board of Pardons in granting relief to inmates serving what we call straight life sentences in Connecticut... that is, sentences with no court-imposed minimum term... and relief to the extent that the minimum term set by statute is reduced, thereby accelerating the inmates' eligibility to appear before the Connecticut Board of Parole, giving inmates serving such sentences a due process right to the extent that the Board of Pardons must give written explanations of adverse decisions when they deny such relief.

This is the second occasion upon which we have come to this Court, the parties in this case have come to this Court on the issue of what, if any, kind of a written statement is required when the Board of Pardons denies pardon relief to a so-called lifer in Connecticut.

The first occasion followed a decision in January of 1979 by a panel of the 2nd Circuit which analogized pardons to parole, and held in part that written statements of reasons for denial of parole are part of the due process requirements surrounding parole decisions, this holding was based upon the expectation of inmates in regard to parole possibilities which lead to those inmates acquiring some liberty interest in the parole process.

In May of 1979 this Court decided Greenholtz.

We had petitioned for a writ of certiorari on the January, '79, decision of the 2nd Circuit.

In June of 1979 this Court granted our petition and remanded the case to the 2nd Circuit for further consideration in light of this Court's decision in Greenholtz.

The same panel of the 2nd Circuit, the same three judges, reconsidered the matter.

Parties briefed it by order of the 2nd Circuit but there was no oral argument.

Although concluding that the applicable Connecticut statute, Section 18-26 of the Connecticut General Statutes, offered only the mere hope of pardon, that it does not create a legitimate expectation of freedom, and hence does not implicate due process... and in this regard the panel concluded that Section 18-26 contains neither a presumption in favor of pardon nor a list of factors to be considered by the Board of Pardons, and in fact that the statute gave the Board unfettered discretion.

Despite these conclusions, the court upon reconsideration, affirmed its earlier conclusion, as the consistent issuance of pardons to inmates serving so-called straight life sentences in Connecticut has given inmates serving such sentences a protected liberty interest in the pardons process.

William H. Rehnquist:

When you say, Mr. O'Neill, the testimony was, what, 75, 85, 90 percent?

It was not straight across the board?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

That's correct, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What was the average time, Mr. O'Neill?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

The average time?

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Of service?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

The testimony on average time came from the same witness who testified on the percentage of pardons, Mr. Gates, who was then Chairman of the Connecticut Board of Parole.

His testimony was somewhere between 14 and 17 years.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

For about 75 percent, is it, of those sentenced under these sentences?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

I think the fairest statement of the testimony is that it's somewhat more than 75 percent, I think is the fairest--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In that sense, there was a pattern, was there?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

--In that sense--

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Of parole within 14 to 17 years?

Stephen J. O'Neill:

--Pardon, Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Pardon, within 14 to 17 years.

Stephen J. O'Neill:

Within 14 to 17 years.

And that was Mr. Gates' approximation.