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Beckworth v. New Jersey State Parole Board

Decided: March 19, 1973.


For remandment -- Chief Justice Weintraub, Justices Jacobs, Hall and Mountain, and Judges Conford, Sullivan and Lewis. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Jacobs, J. Sullivan, P.J.A.D., Temporarily Assigned (concurring).


In Monks v. New Jersey State Parole Board, 58 N.J. 238 (1971), this Court directed that the Board replace its prior rule by one "designed generally towards affording statements of reasons on parole denials." 58 N.J. at 249. Thereafter the Board gave terse statements of reasons which the inmates quickly challenged before the Appellate Division, largely on grounds of their patent insufficiency. In the Appellate Division most of the inmates were represented by the Office of the Public Defender and some by the Office of the Camden Regional Legal Services and their appeals were consolidated for argument. On March 1, 1972 the Appellate Division, pursuant to an application by the inmate appellants, directed that each appellant's pre-parole record be furnished to his counsel; this was done and on April 3, 1972 briefs on behalf of the appellants were duly filed.

Thereafter, on April 28, 1972, the Board moved that the appeals be remanded to it for its reconsideration. A new fulltime chairman of the Board had taken office, an in-depth study of the parole procedures had been undertaken and the Board was prepared to alter previous practices and to express

"as clearly and as extensively as possible the reasons underlying a parole denial." The motion was granted and in due course the Board reheard all of the inmate appellants. As a result many of them were paroled and those denied parole were in general given full statements of reasons. Supplementary briefs were filed on behalf of those who were still denied parole and their matters were awaiting argument in the Appellate Division when we certified pursuant to R. 2:12-1. Our purpose in certifying was not to deal with the attendant facts or the propriety of each individual denial but to deal only with the significant common legal issues raised by the parties. We of course envisioned that the ensuing legal determinations would helpfully serve as general guidelines for the Appellate Division and the Parole Board, in not only these appeals but in others as well; we are advised that several hundred appeals from parole denials are now pending in the Appellate Division. At the oral argument before this Court we notified counsel to avoid, insofar as possible, discussion of the individual matters and we shall now do much the same although we shall, largely for purposes of convenient illustration, detail the facts involving Walter Beckworth, the inmate chosen solely because his name appears first in these proceedings.

Beckworth was born in 1926, was married and divorced by 1950, was ceremoniously married in 1951 and again in 1954, each of these marriages being annulled, and thereafter lived with a common law wife. In 1964 he separated from this wife and moved into the home of a friend. He had an affair with his friend's wife and after an argument he strangled her and slashed her throat. He was indicted for murder and pleaded non vult. His presentence probation report referred to several arrests, including arrests for drunkenness and driving while drunk, which did not result in convictions and to an arrest for attempted suicide which was followed by a conviction and sixty-day jail sentence for disorderly conduct. On the murder charge the court sentenced him to a State Prison term of 15 to 20 years. He was received at the Prison

in 1964 and became eligible for parole consideration in 1968. He first appeared before the Parole Board on May 7, 1968. The Board had before it his complete pre-parole record which included a report from a consultant psychologist who had examined Beckworth and had expressed the view that Beckworth had a repressed hostility towards females who frustrated "his dependency needs." The psychologist recommended that Beckworth's confinement, then at Leesburg, be continued and that he receive "counselling of an insight oriented nature."

In 1970 Beckworth again appeared before the Parole Board. This time the Board had recent reports from a consulting psychologist who noted that Beckworth had "a low tolerance for stresses arising from relationships with women" and from an institutional clinical psychiatrist who expressed the view that because of Beckworth's "hostility towards females" there was "still the danger of threat to society." On May 5, 1970 the Board denied parole and directed that the matter be reheard in May 1972. On May 21, 1970 Beckworth escaped from Leesburg and was not apprehended for 184 days; for this escape he was sentenced to serve one year and one month consecutive to his sentence on the murder charge. In July 1971 the Board directed that Beckworth be reheard in September 1971 on both his murder and escape sentences; he was so heard and at that time the Board had a further report from a consulting psychologist who noted that Beckworth demonstrated "very poor judgment," did not recognize "his own part in the circumstances which brought him to prison" and will have "great difficulty adjusting to community living." He viewed Beckworth as "a poor risk for parole" and on September 21, 1971 the Board denied parole, setting forth as the reason for denial, the "seriousness of criminal offenses and escape." His next hearing was scheduled for September 1973, but after Beckworth had taken his appeal and the matter had been remanded on the Board's application, he was actually heard on June 7, 1972. At this

hearing the Board again denied parole and set forth its reasons in the following form:

Parole has been denied regardless of the availability of a suitable parole plan. Your case has been scheduled for rehearing in May 1973.

After consideration of the circumstances of your present offense, and in the absence of any statement by the sentencing court tending to indicate the contrary, the Board has concluded that there are certain punitive and deterrent aspects to your sentence. In the absence of any special or equitable circumstances or any affirmative evidence that you can avoid criminal behavior, and since your minimum sentence has not yet expired, the Board feels that the punitive and deterrent aspects of your sentence have not been fulfilled and that, therefore, your release would not be compatible with the community welfare.

After consideration of all records relevant to your confinement, treatment and efforts towards self-improvement while in the N.J. State Prison System, the Board is unable to conclude that there is reasonable probability that you will return to society without violation of law.

The Board feels that you have had an excellent institutional adjustment with the exception of your escape from Leesburg in May of 1970. Your receipt of a GED certificate is also noted, as is the fact that you have served almost 8 years in prison.

The Board would note certain elements which might be construed as "situational" in your murder of a friend's wife with whom you were emotionally involved. However the Board finds strong indications of a longstanding hostility to females in your history and a potential for violent or aggressive reaction. These indications include your attempted suicide in 1950, your unstable marriages to three different women, your continuing projections of blame on them for marriage failures, and the various reports of professional treatment staff.

Moreover your escape from prison, your prior attempt at self-destruction, your reported excessive use of alcohol and the circumstances of the present murder, cause the Board concern that you still have the potential to react to not unusual situations where your concepts of masculinity are threatened with impulsive behavior.

There is nothing which affirmatively indicates that you can refrain from serious aggression and parole is therefore denied.

The foregoing clearly satisfied the immediate goals of Monks (58 N.J. 238). Beckworth was told why he was turned down for parole and if he was earlier in the dark he no longer is. He has filed an affidavit in which he startlingly

asserts that during his marriages his "personal life was stable" and in which he denies "any history of alcoholism" or that he ever "attempted to commit suicide." There would appear to be more than enough in the Board's records to justify the Board's inferences with respect to these matters but, in any event, they are in nowise crucial for the heart of Beckworth's turndown was grounded on and amply supported by the recorded circumstances relating to his relationships with women and the murder of his friend's wife and the reports of the psychiatrist and psychologists who examined him on various occasions. The Board was unable to find reasonable probability that if Beckworth were released on parole he would "assume his proper and rightful place in society, without violation of the law, and that his release is not incompatible with the welfare of society." N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.14. Surely we are in no position whatever to say that it should have made such finding or that its denial of parole was in any sense ...

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