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Wells v. Golden

November 01, 2001


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (SP1081-99) (Hon. Iraline Green Barnes, Trial Judge)

Before Farrell, Ruiz, and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruiz, Associate Judge

Argued January 11, 2001

Christopher Wells appeals the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that the District of Columbia Board of Parole *fn2 acted improperly under the Youth Rehabilitation Act (YRA), D.C. Code §§ 24-901 et. seq., (2001), formerly D.C. Code §§ 24-801 et. seq., (1996), and the Board's regulations in setting a parole reconsideration ("set-off") date for January 10, 2007, ten years after the commencement of his sentence. The trial court denied the habeas petition without a hearing, after the government responded that the Board has complete and unreviewable discretion in the matter and had complied with its regulations by giving reasons for departing from the one year set-off prescribed in 28 DCMR § 104.2 (35 D.C. Reg. 455 (1988)). *fn3

Although we have held that the Parole Board has broad discretion in setting such dates for adult prisoners, see White v. Hyman, 647 A.2d 1175, 1180 (D.C. 1994), we hold that Wells's sentence under the YRA, a statute that mandates treatment for certain offenders a judge has determined will benefit under the YRA, accordingly guides the discretion of the Parole Board. Because we have serious doubt on this record whether the Parole Board considered the YRA's twin goals of treatment and rehabilitation in deferring appellant's reconsideration date, we remand the matter for further proceedings.


According to the police report, Christopher Wells, who was then seventeen years old, used a silver handgun to rob a man of his wallet on a street corner at approximately 4:40 a.m. on October 30, 1995. Discovering that the wallet contained only $7, Wells and a companion robbed a second man five minutes later. The two victims contacted police immediately and described the robbers. After police arrested two men matching those descriptions, the complainants separately identified Wells and another man as their assailants. Wells pleaded not guilty, but was convicted of one count of armed robbery, see D.C. Code §§ 22-2801, 4502 (2001), formerly D.C. Code §§ 22-2901, 3202 (1996), possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, see D.C. Code § 22-4504 (2001), formerly D.C. Code § 22-3204 (b) (1996), carrying a pistol without a license, see D.C. Code § 22-4504 (2001), formerly D.C. Code § 22-3204 (a) (1996), and possession of a firearm without registration, see D.C. Code § 7-2502.01 (2001), formerly D.C. Code § 6-2311 (1995).

Wells's presentence report indicated that he was raised in a chaotic home environment characterized by chronic abuse, and would benefit from placement in a structured, institutional environment and treatment under the YRA. The trial court accepted that recommendation, and sentenced him to concurrent sentences of eighteen years for robbery, fifteen years for possession of a firearm, one year for carrying a pistol without a license, and one year for possession of a firearm without registration, all to be served under the YRA.

YRA officials placed Wells in a course of treatment that included academic and vocational classes, counseling, and programs addressing alcohol and drug addiction, conflict resolution, and employment. They recommended that Wells be reconsidered for parole five years after his initial hearing.

The Parole Board concurred in the treatment recommendations, *fn4 but rejected the suggested five year set-off date in favor of a ten year reconsideration period. The Board based its decision on the severity of his crime, explaining that Wells should serve at least five years on each of the two robberies he committed:

S[ubject] committed 2 armed robberies w[ith]in minutes of each other. He was sentenced to (1) 18 y[ea]rs & 15 years - concurrently. He should serve 5 years on each!


For a writ of habeas to issue, the inmate must present "an allegation and supporting facts which, if borne out by proof, would entitle him or her to relief." Bennett v. Ridley, 633 A.2d 824, 826 (D.C. 1993) (quoting Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 292 (1948)). The court decides "whether the petitioner has been deprived of his legal rights by the manner in which the . . . hearing was conducted, in order to determine whether there has been an abuse of discretion." Id.

The question before us is whether Wells has can claim deprivation of any legal rights arising from the manner in which the Parole Board set his reconsideration date. Prisoners sentenced outside of the YRA may be released "[w]henever it shall appear to the Board of Parole that there is a reasonable probability that a prisoner will live and remain at liberty without violating the law." See D.C. Code § 24-404 (a) (2001), formerly D.C. Code § 24-204 (a) (1996). *fn5 "Because the statute and regulation vest in the Board substantial discretion in granting or denying parole," prisoners generally have no statutory or constitutional interest in a parole reconsideration date. White v. Hyman, 647 A.2d at 1180; see also Jones v. Braxton, 647 A.2d 1116, 1117 (D.C. 1994) (holding that a person sentenced to adult parole has no liberty interest to a set-off date under the Due Process Clause). "[U]nless the state can be said to have placed . . . a ...

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