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TX Parole Board Violated Man’s Right to Hearing

October 9, 2009

marshallnewsmessenger.com : Jury says state officials violated parolee’s right to hearing – Parole board chair found liable for $21,000 in damages.

An Austin federal jury on Thursday found that two top state parole officials violated the constitutional rights of an ex-convict who was denied a required hearing for 576 days. Jurors also held Board of Pardon and Paroles Chairman Rissie Owens liable for $21,250 in damages and awarded Curtis Ray Graham attorney’s fees that are expected to top $100,000.

Graham sued the parole board after he was classified as a sex offender even though he was never convicted of a sex crime. He was arrested on aggravated rape charges in the 1980s, and parole officials used that as a basis for classifying him as a sex offender five years after he had been released on parole.

Graham alleged he was never allowed to review evidence against him before the parole board made its decision in December 2007, despite several federal court orders requiring such hearings.

It is rare for ex-convicts in Texas to win such legal challenges in state or federal courts. It is almost unheard of for parole officials to be held liable for official omissions. At a time when several similar lawsuits are pending against state parole officials, attorneys have argued that a win by Graham could force new hearings in perhaps thousands of parole cases in which offenders were classified as sex offenders without proper hearings. Such a finding can bring more stringent limitations on their freedom.

“This should send a message to the parole board that their arrogance not to change their policy won’t work any longer, that constitutional rights matter in how they do their business,” said William Habern, a noted parole-law attorney from Riverside who represents Graham.

This all relates to Adam Walsh Act laws because these laws do not allow for court hearings,nor judicial review, in their re-classification of sex offenders. The legislation re-classifies the offenders based solely on the crime of conviction and without any regard for risk-level, circumstances, or how long ago the offense occurred without recidivism.

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