Photo courtesy of the DOC
MacDougal-Walker Correctional Institute (Photo courtesy of the DOC)

Seven violent offenders currently serving time in MacDougal-Walker Correctional Institute in Suffield filed a petition in Hartford Superior Court this week alleging Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s ban on parole for all violent offenders violates ex post facto laws.

Ex post facto laws retrospectively change the legal consequences or legal status of facts that existed prior to the enactment of the law. The petition, a writ of mandamus, is generally filed in cases where there is a specific right, but no specific legal remedy for enforcing that right.

Gary Sadler, 28, the prisoner who wrote the legal brief, says in his affidavit that “prior to entering a guilty plea to the offense my court appointed counsel advised me that I would become eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of my sentence, which influenced my decision to make the plea.”

Sadler is currently serving a 30 year sentence for first degree manslaughter with a firearm. In his affidavit Sadler said his parole eligibility date is scheduled for June 2011, but that was before Rell announced the ban on parole for all violent offenders. Sadler has been in prison since the age of 17 and has served 11 years. If he serves his entire sentence, he will be released in November 2026.

“I have worked and continue to work hard to become better suited for society. I should not have to pay for the mistakes of others,” Sadler said in the affidavit.

The six other violent offenders who joined Sadler’s lawsuit have similar stories. “This ban is due to non-violent offenders being released and re-offending but it is just unfair, as it has nothing to do with the offender such as myself who has no intention of re-offending,” Taekwon Taylor, who is serving 21 years for first-degree manslaughter, said in his affidavit.

In the brief, Sadler argues that Rell, in addition to the Board of Pardons and Parole, violated the dictates of Dwayne Johnson v. Commissioner of Correction, a state Supreme Court decision released in 2002.

In that lawsuit the Supreme Court found in favor of Mr. Johnson who was serving a 15-year sentence suspended after 10-years with three years probation for a first-degree assault. Between the time Johnson committed the crime in November 1995 and the time he was sentenced more than one year later, the legislature passed a law increasing prison time for violent offenders from 50 percent to 85 percent of their sentence.

“Critical to relief under the Ex Post Facto Clause is not an individual’s right to less punishment, but the lack of fair notice and governmental restraint when the legislature increases punishment beyond what was prescribed when the crime was consummated,” Justice Richard Palmer wrote in the court’s decision.

The Supreme Court found that there was no legislative intent, except testimony by Rep. Michael Lawlor of East Haven, that said the increase in time-served by violent offenders before they were eligible for parole would be applied retrospectively to those already in prison for crimes committed before July 1, 1996.

According to the Supreme Court decision, “Representative Lawlor stated during the floor debate on the proposed legislation in the House of Representatives that it “does not wait five or six years to have an effect. This bill will also [a]ffect all of the people currently incarcerated in Connecticut’s prisons. If they meet these violent guidelines, they will not get a parole hearing when they think they are going to get it. So it will have an immediate [e]ffect and the message will go out, not six years from now, but probably tomorrow that things have changed in Connecticut’s prisons.”

However, the court found Lawlor’s comments to be “insufficient to overcome the strong presumption against retroactivity.” In the end, the court found in favor of Mr. Johnson, who was eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of his sentence.

The seven prisoners are not represented by an attorney and are representing themselves in the lawsuit.