When Will I Be Parole Eligible in Texas?
Parole eligibility can be a tricky topic, even for experienced attorneys. In many ways, parole is a black box – meaning that the Pardons and Parole Board can do what they want with very little oversight from courts. There are also a lot of caveats and small details that change the calculations. If you miss one of those details, your calculation will be completely off.
Eligible does not mean release
The first thing I want to drill down into is that word – eligible. Some people hear “parole” and assume that means they will be released. That’s not true. It only means that you are eligible, and there will be a decision made by the board to release you or not. Statistically, about 1 in 3 people are released. So you have a chance to be released but it’s far from guaranteed. Also, the specific factors of your case can change those odds drastically. Things like the nature of your offense, statements from alleged victims and behavior while in custody will have an effect. But, bottom line – eligible doesn’t mean definitely released.
Does not apply to State Jail Felony (SJF) or Misdemeanor
We’re talking only about first, second and third degree felonies. NOT State Jail Felonies. Why? I’m not sure, but that’s how the legislature decided to write the laws. You can get up to 20% of SJF time knocked off with Diligent Participation Credits. But this is not parole. Also, these credits do not accrue when you’re awaiting trial – they only start once you reach state jail.
When will I be eligible for parole?
For many offenses, you become eligible for parole when your calendar time plus good time credits (discussed below) equals 25 percent of your sentence. For example. For a ten year sentence, you would be first eligible for parole when your calendar time (actual days spent in prison) plus good time equals 2.5 years. A description of Good Time calculations isprovided below.
There are some big caveats to the general rule. There is a group of serious offenses that disallow all good time and require that ½ of sentences be served. These offenses used to be listed under 42.12(3)(g) of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. For this reason, you’ll hear many people refer to them as “3G offenses” even though they have moved to a different section. We’re talking serious and mostly violent offenses such as murder, aggravated robbery, drug offenses involving a child or any offense where there is an affirmative deadly weapon finding. For a full list, check out 42A.054 of the Texas code of criminal procedure.
What are good time credits? How are they calculated?
For most offenses that are not “3G offenses” (with some exceptions, such as a finding that an offense occurred in a drug free zone) you will receive good time credits. When you enter prison, you are typically classified as line I inmate meaning that for every 30 days in custody, you’ll get 20 days good time credits. You also will typically get 20 days for every 30 days spent in jail while awaiting trial.
If you have violations in the jail, you can stop accruing good time credits entirely. They can even go back and retroactively remove good time credits for violations. They must have a hearing to do so, but the level of evidentiary support required is de minimus, which means very small. The Prison does not need to adhere to Rules of Evidence like they would need to do in court.
You can also earn more good time credits by earning “trusty” (sometimes spelled “trustee”) status in the jail, giving additional privileges, and for participating in programs like schooling, or by having a job in the jail. In total, you can earn up to 35 good time / work credits for every 30 days in custody. This is added to calendar days, so that you can earn a total of 65 days credit for every 30 days in custody.
Discretionary Mandatory Supervision (DMS)
The award for most confusing name goes to discretionary mandatory supervision which seems to contradict itself. The reason for this confusing title is because this type of parole used to be mandatory and automatic until 1995-96 when it was made discretionary. This means that instead of an automatic release happening once the requirements are met, there still must be a parole hearing before release is awarded.. The big difference is that with normal parole, the board must make the affirmative determination that a person is suited for parole. Under DMS, the inmate is assumed to be parole-ready and the board must make the affirmative finding that the inmate is NOT rehabilitated. While this seems like a semantic difference, the odds for release under DMS go up to about 50%, from about 33% with normal parole.
DMS is available when calendar days plus good time credits equal the entire sentence. The DMS date will also be referred to as projected release date. Many people hear the term “projected release date” and think it’s a certain release date. But if the board rejects parole, you won’t necessarily be released at that time. For 3G offenses, DMS is not available.
Inmates who are eligible for DMS when they sign their plea might be in line for a fortunate break. After a case called Ex Parte Rezlaf was decided, if you have not gotten 30 days notice of your parole hearing, you will be released immediately. You heard that right- immediately released – no parole hearing is required. It doesn’t apply in a ton of cases, but when it does apply, it’s essentially a get out of jail free card.
Bottom line is that the time to discuss parole eligibility is at the time you are engaged in plea negotiations. Ask your attorney to break down your options in terms of parole eligibility. And never take for granted that a parole eligible date is your actual release date. It’s just one more factor to consider when thinking about a plea or trial.
Future blog posts will cover Parole Hearings and Parole Revocations. This blog is for educational purposes. I am not your lawyer. Visit ATX.legal or call to schedule a consultation about your specific issue.