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Vermont Supreme Court Considers Whether Application of Early Release Statutes and Administrative Rules are Barred by the Ex Post Facto Clause

In Chandler v. Pallito, 2016 VT 104, the Supreme Court considered whether certain early release statutes – regarding conditional reentry and reintegration furlough – and administrative rules within the Department of Corrections (DOC) violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the US Constitution by creating a risk that an inmate would be incarcerated for a longer time than his original sentence.

Issue: Inmate, who was incarcerated for aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, brought suit against the DOC to challenge the application of early release statutes and DOC rules that came into effect after his incarceration. He argued that, taken together, these statutes and rules had the effect of denying him the opportunity to work toward eligibility for early release. Inmate was denied summary judgment in his favor, and the DOC was granted summary judgment in its favor. Inmate then appealed.

Holding: The Court affirmed, finding no violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause because the new statutes and rules did not create a risk that Inmate would be incarcerated for a longer time than his original sentence. When inmate was incarcerated, the only option for an early release was via parole, which could be denied (only public safety and other grounds) at the discretion of the Parole Board. Later, two other avenues for early release were enacted via statute: conditional reentry and reintegration furlough. These also were subject to discretion. Practically speaking, in order to enact these statutes, the DOC promulgated rules that classified different prisoners’ eligibility for programs that would qualify them for these kinds of early release. Inmate in this case argued that the classifications he was given made it so that he was not eligible for the programs and thus not eligible for early release. The Court rejected his claims, stating that the statutes and rules did not alter the DOC’s fundamental discretion over treatment programming and early release, so there was no constitutional violation.

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