The Post-Conviction Justice Project gives USC Law students the invaluable opportunity to personally handle every aspect of a client’s parole process.  Upon starting work at PCJP in May of this year, I immediately began preparing a client for her fifth parole hearing.  Within less than two months, I was representing her before a Board of Parole Hearings commissioner, deputy commissioner, and a representative from the district attorney’s office. 

While the clinic’s supervising professors and student advisors are always receptive to questions, they have struck the perfect balance between providing guidance and truly giving students the chance to represent their clients on their own.

In preparing my client for her hearing, I met with her six times between May 26th and July 5th.  In these meetings, we discussed the facts of her commitment offense, the remorse she felt for the victim and his family, her parole plans, and her significant rehabilitation in her 21 years of incarceration.  Despite her tremendous insight into her commitment offense, my client had a difficult time articulating the motive behind her crime.  Several of our conversations focused on the motive.  After mooting her with tough questions that forced her to delve further into her emotional and mental state at the time of the offense, she was able to discuss her motive with the parole board at her hearing – something that she had been unable to do at her previous board hearing in 2008.

This case was unique because my client committed the murder in front of her daughter, who was only five-years-old at the time.  The representation therefore demanded that I provide regular updates to my client’s daughter.  Given the strain on their relationship, my client and her daughter had a difficult time communicating with one another, and when I took on the representation, they had not spoken to each other in about half a year.  Since the Board had consistently focused on my client committing the crime in front of her daughter, I worried that the Board would deny her parole again.  In an attempt to improve my client’s chances despite this factor in her commitment offense, I turned to Marsy’s Law.

Under Marsy’s Law, otherwise known as the “victim’s law,” only those who are classified as victims can attend the parole hearings of inmates.  Since the Board had classified my client’s daughter as a victim in previous parole hearings, I used Marsy’s Law to have her authorized to attend the hearing as a victim.  Victims are allowed to bring two individuals for support; her daughter decided to bring her half-brother, so my client was able to see both her son and daughter for the first time in several years on the day of her hearing.  The law also permits any victims to provide testimony supporting either a finding of suitability or unsuitability.  Since the Board had previously used the presence of my client’s daughter at the motel room where the victim was killed to deny her parole, her testimony favoring release was invaluable to the Board’s finding of suitability.

Representing this woman at her parole hearing was a remarkable experience.  During her hearing, she was very emotional but she never lost her composure and would always immediately get back on track.  I am incredibly proud of her and will prepare a file to send up to Governor Brown’s office once the Board’s decision is finalized.  I hope to see you her reunited with her family by the holiday season.