State prisoners have no constitutional right to be paroled, the Supreme Court said yesterday, rebuking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco for ordering the parole of several inmates who had been convicted of murder or attempted murder. The Los Angeles Times said the high court in the last week has overturned three rulings by liberal appellate judge Judge Stephen Reinhardt of Los Angeles.
In the latest decision, the justices said the 9th Circuit was wrong to second-guess the California parole board and the state courts for denying parole to Damon Cooke of Los Angeles, who was convicted of the attempted murder of a friend in Berkeley in 1991. Cooke was given a term of up to life in prison, and the parole board said he “would pose an unreasonable risk to society if released from prison.” Cooke lost a staste appeal, but the 9th Circuit said parole officials did not have enough evidence to justify denying him parole. “There is no right under the federal Constitution to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence, and the states are under no duty to offer parole to their prisoners,” the justices said. “That should have been the beginning and the end” of the matter in the federal courts. California prosecutors said that since Reinhardt's ruling last June, several dozen state inmates had won parole from federal judges, and several hundred more appeals were pending.