Federal Court: Texas Parolees Deserve Fair Hearing

The policy of tagging Texas parolees as sex offenders may soon be over for good, thanks to the recent decision of a federal court in Austin. The controversial policy resulted, among other things, in branding some parolees who were never convicted of sex crimes as sex offenders.

For years, lawyers have challenged the state's failure to provide parolees with a hearing before classifying them as sex offenders upon their release. State corrections officials argued that conditioning release on sex offender status helps to ensure public safety. Lawyers for the parolees said they are entitled to due process before being classified as sex offenders.

Decision

The federal court, following in the footsteps of other courts that required the hearings, held that state parole officials could be personally liable for failing to ensure due process, including financial costs. The consequences could be immediately felt, as several officials are involved in lawsuits seeking damages brought by victims of the practice. The court said that the law clearly requires that parolees have an opportunity to challenge sex offender classification and review the evidence against them. Further, the parole board must first find that parolees pose a threat to society.

The plaintiff in the case was registered as a sex offender as a condition to his parole, including restrictions on his movements and mandatory sex offender treatment. However, he was never convicted of a sex crime, and his sentencing order included clear instructions that he was not subject to sex offender registration requirements. The state failed to conduct a hearing over the matter. The decision reflects that courts will no longer be patient as the state struggles to fix the system.

Consequences

Under the decision, convicted felons who serve time and qualify for parole may challenge an adverse classification. Further, depending on the severity of the charges, those charged with sex crime will not be automatically subject to sex offender status in the future. Texas prison officials and courts are reviewing the cases of 300 parolees who may gain an opportunity to challenge an unjust classification and obtain compensation. So far, many have succeeded.

If you are parolee who has been subject to an adverse classification, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal rights.