Darnell Hardy, a California parolee-at-large, was arrested at a truck scale on hwy 20 in Illinois. He wasn’t accused of any criminal wrongdoing or even a driving violation but, somehow, the law finally caught up with him. Hardy, a long-haul trucker, was plying his cross-country trade along with his wife, also a licensed truck driver. He was lucky she was with him. She could drive the truck back to Oakland while he got a ride to San Quentin. A parolee is not allowed to leave the state, so Mr. Hardy had to abscond parole supervision in order to pay the bills and avoid the lure of illegal enterprise.
He had been absconding parole supervision for about 2 years. The length of time at-large and the out-of-state arrest usually results in an offer of a return to prison for 10-to-12 months, eligible for behavior credits. Mr. Hardy got lucky at his preliminary hearing; we had a fair Deputy Commissioner in the right mood. I think it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and he made a lot of good offers that day. He bought my argument about the “spirit of a good parole adjustment v- the letter of a good parole adjustment” and offered him credit-for-time-served. He had been “down” for about three weeks. Most of the Deputy Commissioners I work with would have cast a glare and offered 11 months, an offer that, if rejected, brings the risk of getting some hardass at the next phase who might use his discretionary power to take away his eligibility for behavior credits. The onus is on us to settle at the preliminary (Probable Cause Hearing) if there isn’t a good shot at getting the charge(s) dismissed at a full Revocation Hearing.
After accepting his fortunate offer, I gave Mr. Hardy my typical pithy advice about how he needs to report to parole or he’ll stay on parole forever, or at least until he’s spent an extra four years in prison (parole time stops when you are a parolee-at-large). I offered more priceless advice to make sure any truck-driving work he does is intrastate, as if he wasn’t already aware of all this. During this process, it never crossed my mind, or the Deputy Commissioner’s, (or any of the guards in the room, I’m sure), that Darnell Hardy would not be a safe or reliable trucker simply because he served time in state prison.
The driver of the tanker truck that crashed and exploded near the Bay Bridge in Oakland served time in State Prison in the 1990s. A non-violent offender, like Mr. Hardy, he had a problem with heroin and its companion crime of theft/burglary. The San Francisco Chronicle and other news organizations made a lead story out of his criminal past. An Assemblyman out of Santa Barbara named Pedro Nava wants to send a bill to the state legislature that would tighten certain licensing requirements. The news stories insinuate and some opportunistic politicians are trying to legislate that convicted felons shouldn’t drive trucks and/or get hazmat (hazardous materials) licenses. The driver of the tanker truck had a clean driving record and underwent whatever training and testing necessary for his hazmat license. Where was the connection that a former addict who had turned his life around would have a propensity to drive recklessly? It has not even been determined that he drove recklessly.
As an attorney, the two mitigating factors that I trumpet loudest in the parole revocation process are when parolees-at-large self-report, that is, they are not picked up at large on a warrant, and employment. Only the most hidebound Deputy Commissioners, those who want them all locked up forever, ignore employment as a mitigating factor. Most people in the process know that legally acquired money (in a sufficient amount) is the key to staying out of jail. Applications for, or recently acquired, hazmat licenses is another thing I’ve used in mitigation because my clients are from places like Richmond, Vallejo, Oakland and Martinez, where the remaining industrial jobs require working with hazardous materials such as gasoline or other materials in the refining process.
The false and disingenuous exploitation of “public safety” a favorite phrase of parole officers and the Board of Parole Hearings- is a real public safety issue. Public safety is undermined by unemployment and families fractured by the criminal justice system. The news stories and political posturing exemplified here represent just another click of the ratchet. If convicted felons who have paid their debt to society are not allowed to get the necessary licenses to do certain, decent-paying blue-collar work, another avenue of reintegration closes as recidivism climbs ever onward and upward and Darnell Hardy, if he’s still motivated, will have to try to find, or revisit, some other skills to pay the bills.
MARC GARDNER is a defense lawyer in the Bay Area. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org