The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently reversed a lower court order granting defendant James Finley early parole.
In the early morning of August 2013, Sergeant Timothy Clark responded to a report of a person unconscious inside a gray vehicle in a McDonald’s parking lot. Arriving at the scene, the sergeant noticed an empty bottle of Smirnoff Ice on the floor of the suspect’s car. Clark knocked on the driver’s window and awoke the driver. The driver opened the window. He had glassy, bloodshot eyes, but he denied consuming alcohol. Rather than get out of the car, he closed the window and revved the engine. Sergeant Clark grabbed the door handle, but the driver began to flee. Another officer responded as back-up and pursued the fleeing vehicle.
Finley was arrested and charged with recklessly endangering another person (“REAP“), as well as various other violations of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code. In September 2014, Finley entered guilty pleas to one count each of fleeing/attempting to elude police, REAP, habitual offender, driving while operating privileges were suspended-DUI related, and reckless driving. The next month, the trial court sentenced Finley to an aggregate sentence of 10 to 20 months of incarceration for the felony and misdemeanor offenses. For the summary offense of driving while operating privileges were suspended-DUI related, the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of 13 to 20 months incarceration. Finley did not appeal.
In June 2015, Finley filed a motion for early parole. Following a hearing, the trial court granted Finley’s motion. The Commonwealth appealed, presenting one question for the intermediate court’s consideration: whether the court of common pleas committed an error by granting a motion for early parole without legal authority?
The court recognized, pursuant to precedent, that when an offender is sentenced to a maximum term of imprisonment of under two years, the common pleas court retains the authority to grant and revoke parole. What’s more, when the defendant is parole-eligible, the trial court’s decision to grant parole is discretionary, and it is subject to appellate review under an abuse of discretion standard.
In this case, however, the court noted that it was not faced with a challenge to an order granting early parole to an eligible defendant. Instead, the case concerned the trial court’s authority to grant early parole to an ineligible defendant. When the trial court imposed its sentence, Finley was not eligible for parole on the felony and misdemeanor convictions until his minimum sentence expired in September 2015. Nothing in the record or in the sentencing order provided that Finley was eligible for an early reentry program that would allow for parole prior to his serving his minimum sentence. But when the trial court granted parole, Finley had served less than nine months.
Finley contended that the trial court did not err in granting early parole. He argued that he was made eligible for reentry when the sentencing order stated that the county would retain parole jurisdiction. The appeals court disagreed, concluding that in order to be eligible for early parole, the trial court is required to make an early reentry determination on the record at the time of sentencing. The trial court’s imposing a county sentence and retaining parole did not, the court explained, satisfy section 9756(b)(3) and make a defendant eligible for parole prior to the expiration of his minimum sentence.
The appeals court concluded that since the trial court didn’t make Finley eligible for parole at the time of sentencing, and since Finley had not served his minimum sentence, he was not parole-eligible. Thus, the trial court lacked the authority to grant Finley’s motion for early parole. The appeals court therefore reversed and remanded the lower court’s order.
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More Blog Posts:
Pennsylvania Appellate Court Holds DUI’s Can Occur on Private Roadways, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, April 1, 2016.
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Holds Driver’s Arrest Was Supported By Probable Cause, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2016.
Arrested For My First DUI, Pennsylvania DUI Lawyer Blog, February 12, 2016.