Michel and Ellen Shane recently attended the first parole hearing of the man who murdered their 13-year-old daughter, Emily. Notably absent from the parole hearing was a prosecutor from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office (LADA). This injustice was compliments of George Gascón.
Defendants who are convicted of murder usually receive a “life” sentence and are entitled to a parole hearing by the Parole Board to decide if/when they are “suitable” for release. At a parole hearing, the inmate is always represented by an attorney. Victims and their families (referred to as victim’s next of kin or VNOK) have an absolute right to attend and meaningfully participate in parole hearings.
The District Attorney’s Office is the sole representative for the interests of the people at a parole hearing. The prosecutor has the responsibility to speak on the facts and give an opinion about whether parole is appropriate. Prosecutors ensure victim’s interests are represented because the victims’ rights align with the prosecutor’s role as guardian of public safety.
Each month there are approximately 200 parole hearings for inmates convicted of crimes committed in Los Angeles County. District Attorney Gascón’s policy forbids LADA prosecutors from attending parole hearings. The lack of a prosecutor attending a parole hearing means that NO ONE is representing the people of Los Angeles County. LADA prosecutors are forbidden from objecting to any currently dangerous criminal being released from prison. No other county in California has this void in representing the interests of the people in their county at parole hearings.
The California Department of Corrections and Board of Parole Hearings provides access to relevant documents for upcoming parole hearings to all California counties’ District Attorney’s Offices. The information in these documents is what the Parole Board considers in deciding whether an inmate is suitable for parole and includes discipline actions, psychological evaluations, rehabilitative efforts, parole plans, and letters of remorse.
While the documents themselves are confidential, the information contained in the documents is discussed at the parole hearing, which is transcribed and publicly available. The inmate also expressly waives his or her right to confidentiality in the psychological interview and written evaluation.
Prosecutors throughout California discuss the contents of the inmates’ records with Victims/VNOKs to prepare them for what they will hear at the parole hearing. This minimizes the trauma and anxiety that Victims/VNOKs have and gives them critical information they need to meaningfully form and express their opinion on the inmate’s release.
As further evidence of his blatant violation of victims’ rights, Gascón has taken the unprecedented step of restricting Los Angeles County prosecutors’ access to any information from inmates’ records, resulting in Victims/VNOKs from Los Angeles County not being provided critical information to prepare for parole hearings. Victims/VNOKs from Los Angeles County are being treated differently than Victims/VNOKs in any other county, which is inequitable, unjust and violates victims’ rights to justice and due process, the bedrock of Marsy’s Law.
Gascón’s policies are a slap in the face for Emily Shane’s parents. Although the parents have a pro bono attorney representing them, they have been deprived of information on how the convicted murderer has been progressing. No parent should ever have to go ALONE AND UNIFORMED to the parole hearing of the person who murdered their child. Common decency and the Constitution require that they be helped through the parole process.
Kathleen Cady is one of several former prosecutors who are providing pro bono assistance to crime victims in response to Gascón’s policies.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.