Garner v. Jones

LOCATION:Hawaii Office of Elections

DOCKET NO.: 99-137
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 529 US 244 (2000)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 2000
DECIDED: Mar 28, 2000

Christopher S. Brasher – Atlanta, Georgia, argued the cause for the petitioners
Elizabeth S. Kertscher – Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

While serving a life sentence for murder in Georgia, Robert Jones escaped and committed a second murder in 1982. Jones was sentenced to a second life term. At the time of Jones’ second offense, Georgia law required the State’s Board of Pardons and Paroles (Board) to consider inmates serving life sentences for parole after seven years and if it was not granted at that time, that it be reconsidered every three years thereafter. Jones was initially considered for parole in 1989, seven years after his 1982 conviction, and parole was denied. After Jones was incarcerated but before his first parole hearing, the Board amended its rule to require that parole reconsideration take place only once every eight years. Subsequently, the Board scheduled Jones for reconsideration eight years later, in 1997. However, a Federal Court of Appeals ruling, that such board actions could not be applied retroactively, allowed Jones to be reconsidered for parole in 1992 and again in 1995. Then a U.S. Supreme Court decision was read to allow for retroactive adjustments in parole and Jones was scheduled for reconsideration in 2003 (eight years later), rather then in 1998. Jones sued the Board members, claiming that retroactive application of the amended rule violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. The District Court ruled in favor of the Board. In reversing, the Court of Appeals found that the amended Rule’s retroactive application was necessarily an ex post facto violation.


Does the retroactive application of a Georgia provision permitting the extension of intervals between parole considerations violate the Ex Post Facto Clause?

Media for Garner v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 11, 2000 in Garner v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 28, 2000 in Garner v. Jones

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 99-137, Garner against Jones will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

After escaping from a Georgia prison where he was serving a life sentence for a murder conviction, the respondent committed a second murder; he was apprehended and again sentenced to a life term.

At the time he committed the second murder, the Georgia Law required that respondent first be considered for parole after seven years, and then assuming parole was denied every three years thereafter.

The parole Board acting under statutory authority lengthened the interval between reconsideration’s date.

Its new rule took effect after the respondent was convicted and sentenced.

Under the new rule, parole reviews take place at least every eight years.

Under a policy of the parole board however, a prisoner can receive early review upon a showing of a change in circumstances or upon the Parole Board’s receipt of new information bearing on his suitability for release.

In 1995 after the Parole Board decided not to consider him for release for another eight years, respondent brought suit in the Federal Court.

He claimed that the Parole Board’s retroactive application of this new rule violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution.

Respondent asserted that the less frequent parole reviews would result in a lengthened period of incarceration, and therefore that increased the punishment, a result that is prohibited by the Ex Post Facto Clause.

The District Court rejected the respondent’s claim; it determined that the new rule changed only the timing between reconsideration hearings, thereby relieving the Parole Board of the necessity of conducting parole hearings for inmates with no reasonable chance of early release.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed; it relied upon differences between the Parole Board’s new rule and the California Law sustained in our decision in the Department of Corrections versus Morales.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded that permitting an eight year interval between parole review seems certain to increase some inmates period of incarceration.

The Court of Appeals gave no regard to the Parole Board’s internal policies which do permit expedited reviews upon showing of changed circumstances as I have indicated.

We now reverse and remand for further proceedings, a prisoner alleging that a law changing the frequency of parole reviews violates the Ex Post Facto Clause must demonstrate that the new law creates a significant risk of prolonging his incarceration.

Today’s opinion outlines the broad discretion Georgia Law vests with the Parole Board.

Our analysis rest upon the premise that the Board will exercise its discretion in accordance with each inmate’s likelihood of release between reconsideration dates.

Respondent’s personal circumstances, is having committed two murders well illustrates how the new rule will enable the Parole Board to put its resources to better use; to concentrate on those prisoners having a good possibility of early release.

It’s difficult to see how the Board increased the risk of respondent serving a longer time, when it decided that his parole review should be exercised after an eight-year, and not a three-year interval.

Yet, if such a risk develops, respondent may invoke the Board’s internal policies to request expedited review.

It was error for the Court of Appeals to say that Parole Board’s policies were of no relevance in the case.

The Parole Board’s statements at a minimum provide important instruction as to how the Board exercises its discretion in making parole decisions.

Respondent claims he is not been permitted sufficient discovery to demonstrate a violation, and this matter can be addressed on remand by either the Court of Appeals or as need be by the District Court in the first instance.

Justice Scalia has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Souter has filed a dissenting opinion, which Justices Stevens and Ginsburg join.