A Louisiana man who has served 47 years in prison remains incarcerated nearly nine months after his parole date and following two court decisions ordering his release.
The Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole voted unanimously on March 18 to release Bobby Sneed from Angola prison.
Sneed collapsed on March 25, four days before his scheduled release, and tested positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine, prison authorities claimed. He was held past his release date for a disciplinary hearing, but the disciplinary committee dropped the drug use allegations because it could not confirm that the urine sample used to accuse the 75-year-old was his.
By Nov. 9 authorities at the Louisiana State Prison in Angola, Louisiana, had accused Sneed of a fresh drug charge, saying the prisoner had been found unresponsive with “one eyedropper containing unknown liquid substance inside the bottle,” a liquid they later said was PCP.
Following this, he was found guilty at a disciplinary hearing of possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to one day in solitary confinement.
Both the charges from March and the November charge have been dropped by the prison disciplinary board, and by Dec. 9 a district judge issued his second ruling ordering Sneed’s release.
While waiting by the gate to be picked up on Dec. 10, Sneed was rearrested and sent to a nearby jail.
Although the judge had ordered his release the day before, which followed another on Nov. 18, the parole board engineered a way to keep Sneed incarcerated despite the rulings in his favor, including its own vote.
During his brief release, the board issued an arrest warrant for parole violation, arguing that the two drug accusations against Sneed this year violated his parole — even though he was still incarcerated and not actually paroled.
“This latest illegal and retaliatory move by the Board of Parole—yet another foul blow in their Javert-like pursuit of Mr. Sneed—is an effort to prolong Mr. Sneed’s unconstitutional detention,” Sneed’s lawyer, Thomas Frampton, wrote in a federal court filing in response to his rearrest.
Sneed has served 47 years in prison for his role in a fatal robbery in 1974. Sneed was a lookout and was not present during the killing, but was convicted of principal to commit second-degree murder because he was involved in the crime that led to the murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.
In mid-March, the parole panel decided Sneed was no longer a threat to society. He suffered a stroke in 2005 and had to be rehabilitated.
“I don’t believe that there’s any threat to public safety….By keeping him incarcerated, at his age and with [his] medical conditions, it’s more costly with very finite taxpayer dollars to keep him [locked up] than to help him get substance abuse treatment,” Kerry Myers, deputy director of the Louisiana Parole Project, told Reason.com. “What’s at stake is: What’s the best use of resources?”
Although the disciplinary committee cleared him for the positive urine sample, the parole board voted to revoke Sneed’s parole in May. However, a judge later ruled that the parole board did not afford Sneed the due process he was warranted to receive in a parole revocation hearing.
Neither Sneed nor his lawyers saw the evidence against him or got to cross-examine or call any witnesses during the hearing.
“Because it is undisputed that no such procedures were followed when Mr. Sneed’s parole was stripped…this Court finds that [he] was deprived … of due process of law,” wrote Judge Ron Johnson of the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Only one member of the parole committee signed the warrant that was issued based on a write-up Sneed received on Nov. 9, when he was found unresponsive and allegedly in possession of an eyedropper containing PCP.
While Sneed’s fate remains in limbo, state and federal lawsuits are pending on each side. The Louisiana Supreme Court on Dec. 16 ruled that the lower court was wrong to order Sneed released on parole. The Supreme Court contended that the district court should have sent the case to the parole committee for a revocation hearing.
Frampton filed a federal motion to hold the state officials in contempt. He claims that Sneed could not have violated his parole because he was still incarcerated and not on parole.
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