Based on many years of experience in parole-related matters, Mr. O’Neil recognizes that most clients do not want to pay substantial legal fees for representation only to learn that once the lawyer evaluates the case there is very little chance to succeed. For that reason, when there is time, he divides the representation into two parts; allowing the client to decide whether they want to proceed with representation in the face of an adverse evaluation. Because any case can be voted by the Parole Board up to two months prior to the month of scheduled review, and because considerable time and effort must be devoted to preparing a professional and detailed parole presentation, it is strongly suggested that parole representation should be secured as least 6 months prior to one’s initial parole eligibility date, or next review date (preferably 8 months prior, and 12-18 months prior in sex offense cases and complex cases). Many cases can be prepared in shorter time, but in those cases where there is not at least 4 month remaining before the initial or next parole review date, there is not time for the written evaluation process. In those cases, Mr. O’Neil will get as much information during the initial phone call or personal consultation to give his best assessment of how difficult it will be to obtain a favorable parole vote, and whether it is a case that can be adequately prepared in the time remaining. If there is adequate time, the client can then decide whether they want to retain his services at the upcoming parole review, wait until a later review, or not proceed further.
Where there is time for the written evaluation process, Mr. O’Neil first obtains some written information and materials from the client and then conducts an initial face-to-face interview with the client. He then provides a summary evaluation which states what he believes to be the issues, as well as strengths and weaknesses of that particular client’s situation. The evaluation will also discuss the parole process and the interview that the client will undergo with the Institutional Parole Officer (IPO) who will prepare the parole file that will be forwarded to the Parole Board.
The Parole Board
The summary evaluation will usually be anywhere from 6-12 pages, depending upon the complexity of the case. It will also include 20 pages of attachments describing the parole process, the IPO Interview, and how family members and friends can go about writing letters in support of the inmate’s parole. Mr. O’Neil’s evaluation will also discuss whether there are other steps that may be available to enhance the prospect of a favorable parole vote. For instance, in the case of sex offenders, a treatment program by a licensed sex offender treatment provider is offered by correspondence course that could be helpful. In some cases a psychological evaluation or other expert consultation could prove helpful in presenting a case to the Board. Where such steps may be helpful, the client can decide whether to pursue them as part of the overall parole strategy.
Because parole files are confidential, the Parole Board will not release the file to the inmate or their attorney. To help understand what the Board likely has in a parolee’s file, Mr. O’Neil obtains documents available through client releases and the Texas Public Information Act that can provide him with many of the same documents contained in the Parole Board’s file. This permits him to identify possible problem areas that need to be addressed in the parole presentation. Also, official records may sometimes disclose matters that could be helpful to the client.
That was the case of a client who had been repeatedly denied parole before retaining Mr. O’Neil. In that case police reports and records available through the District Attorney’s Office contained information that corroborated the client’s claim of an accidental shooting. Unfortunately, the client had pleaded guilty to the charge of murder, and the evidence of record, while suggesting an accidental shooting, was far from conclusive. Researching evidence that could support the client’s claim Mr. O'Neil discovered that the firearm used in the shooting had a history of accidental discharges due to a hair trigger. Coupling that evidence with the police reports that contained facts consistent with the client’s claim that the shooting was accidental, Mr. O’Neil was able to obtain an FI-1 vote from the Parole Board, resulting in the client’s release the following month. That is the kind of professional and detailed efforts Mr. O’Neil expends in all his client’s cases. It is often that kind of attention to detail that spells the difference between success and failure before the Parole Board.
Parole Hearings | Going the Extra Mile
In each of his cases, Mr. O’Neil also requests a personal face-to-face interview with the lead voter along with the opportunity to bring family members to that interview. That is not the case with many attorneys. Although Mr. O’Neil is almost always granted such an interview, the decision on whether to grant a personal interview is at the discretion of the lead voter. In those very rare instances where a face-to-face interview is not granted, Mr. O’Neil has been granted a telephone interview where he could conference in one or two family members. The opportunity to discuss the case directly with the lead voter is something Mr. O’Neil considers as extremely important. He will work with the family members and friends that will be part of that interview to prepare them for that interview. Mr. O’Neil believes that open communication with the client and their family is vital. To that end he puts his parole clients on his attorney phone list, and encourages communication between him and his client’s family throughout the parole process.