The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decided on Thursday that because no constitutional right to parole exists, an inmate cannot challenge the calculation of his parole-eligibility under the U.S. Constitution.
Raymond Lee Fetzer is serving time in the Colorado Department of Corrections from convictions dating to 1988. He claimed that CDOC is failing to comply with Colorado law in calculating his sentences as one single, continuous sentence for setting his parole eligibility date. Under that formula, Fetzer would have been eligible for parole years earlier than the state determined.
After a state court decided CDOC should reexamine Fetzer's eligibility date, he then alleged in federal district court that the department miscalculated his mandatory release date again, and in doing so violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law and to due process. He asked for monetary damages.
“The court explained that the grant of parole is a privilege, not a right,” circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. wrote, in summarizing the federal district court’s decision. Even if Fetzer had a right to correctly-calculated parole-eligibility, “the Colorado Parole Board has unlimited discretion whether to grant or deny parole. Therefore, the court concluded, Fetzer did not have a liberty interest in a particular PED, and the claim was legally frivolous.”
The circuit court cited precedent that parole in lieu of serving one’s entire sentence is not a right, and disagreed with Fetzer that Colorado law creates a right to parole by providing guidance for the application of the parole-eligibility formula. If there is no constitutional right to the outcome, therefore, there is no constitutional claim about the process.
“What Fetzer ultimately seeks is parole, but as he properly concedes, he has no ‘legitimate claim of entitlement’ to parole,” Kelly wrote. “He therefore has no subsidiary liberty interest in the process used to determine his PED, even if that process involves a nondiscretionary calculation.”
The court reaffirmed that an inmate must seek a state remedy even if, in Fetzer's case, a state allegedly repeatedly misapplies the parole-eligible calculation.
The case is Raymond Lee Fetzer v. Rick Raemisch, et al.