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United States v. McCall


November 14, 1985


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 81-0553)

Author: Becker

Before: HIGGINBOTHAM, BECKER, Circuit Judges, and COHILL, District Judge*fn*


BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This case, before us for the second time, presents the question whether the Adult Guidelines for Parole Decisionmaking of the United States Parole Commission constitute "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause of the United States Constitution.*fn1 In early 1980, appellee, Lawrence Forman, was given a "presumptive release date" based on Commission guidelines promulgated in 1979, see 28 C.F.R. § 2.20 (1979), as applied to Forman's convictions for offenses committed between 1967 and 1974. In United States ex rel. Forman v. McCall, 709 F.2d 852 (3d Cir. 1983) (" Forman I "), a panel of this court held that application of the 1979 guidelines to Forman was retrospective and to Forman's detriment. The panel further held that the guidelines would constitute laws for purposes of the ex post facto clause if they are applied without "substantial flexibility." The panel remanded the case for development of a full factual record concerning the manner in which the Commission applied the guidelines in practice.

On remand, the district court accepted written submissions by the parties and held a hearing during which it considered statistical evidence and expert testimony. The court found that the evidence revealed the absence of substantial flexibility in the application of the guidelines, and accordingly held that the guidelines constitute "laws" for ex post facto purposes. We have carefully reviewed the record developed on remand and conclude that it unequivocally demonstrates that the guidelines are applied with substantial flexibility. We therefore reverse.


The procedural history of this case was recounted at length in Forman I ; a brief description of Forman's situation and our prior opinion will therefore suffice.

Forman was convicted of evading more than $2,000,000 in taxes between 1967 and 1974. When he received his initial parole hearing, in early 1980, the Parole Commission applied the then-current parole guidelines, promulgated in 1979. See 28 C.F.R. § 2.20 (1979). The guidelines comprise a grid on which "offense characteristics" (designed to measure the severity of an offense) are plotted against "offender characteristics" (designed to measure the likelihood of recidivism) to yield a "customary" range of time that the offender is to serve before being released from prison on parole.*fn2 See Forman I, 709 F.2d at 857. See generally Warren v. United States Parole Commission, 212 App. D.C. 137, 659 F.2d 183, 189-93 (D.C. Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 950, 71 L. Ed. 2d 665, 102 S. Ct. 1454 (1982) (detailed history of the guidelines). The Commission determined that under the 1979 guidelines, the "customary range" appropriate for Forman was forty to fifty-two months in prison.

Forman petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (1976), claiming that the application of the 1979 guidelines violated the constitutional proscription against ex post facto laws. The district court agreed and ordered the Commission to afford Forman a new parole hearing to be conducted in accordance with the guidelines in effect at the time of the 1976 sentencing. The Commission complied, and Forman was ultimately released on parole after signing a Certificate reserving to the Commission the right to reincarcerate him should the district court's order be reversed or vacated on appeal, which promptly followed.

The Forman I panel first held that the law in effect at the time of the offense is the relevant law for purposes of ex post facto analysis. Forman I, 709 F.2d at 856-57. See Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 28-31, 101 S. Ct. 960, 964-65, 67 L. Ed. 2d 17 (1981). In order to determine whether the retrospective application of the 1979 guidelines was detrimental to Forman, the panel looked to the 1974 guidelines, those in effect at the time of commission of Forman's offense, stating:

It thus appears that the Commission's application of the 1979 instead of the 1974 guidelines resulted in the establishment of a different "customary" range of incarceration in Forman's case: under the 1979 guidelines, Forman's worst-case prognosis was forty to fifty-two months, as compared with a thirty-six month worst-case presumptive minimum under the 1974 guidelines. Moreover, Forman's best-case prognosis was twenty-four to thirty-six months under the 1979 guidelines but twelve to sixteen months under the 1974 guidelines.

Forman I, 709 F.2d at 859. The panel thus concluded that the retrospective application of the 1979 guidelines was detrimental to Forman. The panel therefore went on to discuss the question whether the guidelines were "laws".

On that issue, following the precepts of Geraghty v. United States Parole Commission, 579 F.2d 238 (3d Cir. 1978) (" Geraghty I "), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 445 U.S. 388, 100 S. Ct. 1202, 63 L. Ed. 2d 479 (1980), the panel held that, if administered without sufficient flexibility, the guidelines could be considered laws for ex post facto purposes. This position has since been rejected by every other circuit that has addressed the issue.*fn3 However, it remains the law of this circuit until overruled by the in banc court. See Third Circuit Internal Operating Procedures, Chapter VIII C.

In reaching its decision, the panel rejected the proposition that the guidelines could not be laws for ex post facto purposes simply because they are administrative regulations, and not statutes, Forman I, 709 F.2d at 859 (citing Geraghty I, 579 F.2d at 266).*fn4

The panel noted, but rejected, the argument that the guidelines fall within the class of regulations, "possibly excluded" from the ambit of the ex post facto clause, consisting of "no more than general statements of policy, interpretive rules, or rules relating to agency practice or procedure." Forman I, 709 F.2d at 859 n.17 (citing Pickus v. United States Bd. of Parole, 165 U.S. App. D.C. 284, 507 F.2d 1107, 1112-14 (D.C. Cir. 1974) (rejecting contention that guidelines are merely statements of general policy and holding their promulgation to be subject to rulemaking provisions of Administrative Procedure Act)). On the contrary, the panel recognized that the guidelines play an important role in the parole process:

"Unbounded discretion probably does not exist in the Commission's decisionmaking; the guidelines provide perimeters that may be overstepped only upon a showing of good cause, see 18 U.S.C. § 4206(c)(1976), and changes in the guidelines appear to shape the exercise of that discretion."

Forman I, 709 F.2d at 861 (footnote omitted).

However, the panel declined to adopt an approach, then advocated by Forman, which looks only to the statutory language and legislative history for enlightenment as to the ex post facto effect of the guidelines. The panel thus rejected the position that simply because all parole decisions must fall within the guidelines or depart from them only upon a showing of "good cause," see 18 U.S.C. § 4206(c), the guidelines affect all parole decisions, the Commission may never ignore them, and therefore they constitute a law for ex post facto purposes. The panel relied instead upon the approach taken in our earlier opinion in Geraghty I, and reaffirmed the reasoning of that opinion, which treated the ex post facto question as essentially one of fact:

Geraghty recognized both that the Parole Commission's "discretion" is severely constricted because the Commission must either follow its guidelines except for good cause or should revise the guidelines when parole decisions outside the regulations become too frequent and that the "channel for discretion'" under the guidelines therefore appeared to be "in actuality an unyielding conduit.". . . . Geraghty held that the manner in which the Commission actually applied its guidelines still constituted a question of fact.

Forman I, 709 F.2d at 862 (footnote omitted).

As refined by Forman I, the inquiry thus became, as we have noted, whether the guidelines in fact are applied with "substantial flexibility." Id. The panel ruled that a Commission practice to accord each inmate individualized treatment would not necessarily be dispositive of the issue, but that the "range and contours of that allegedly individualized treatment," id. at 861, would also be relevant to the determination of whether the guidelines were merely a channel for discretion," or "an unyielding conduit" which constitutes a "law" for ex post facto purposes. The district court was therefore invited to rely on a wide variety of evidence on remand, including statistical evidence concerning the frequency with which parole decisions are made within the guidelines. We now turn to the district court record and the court's findings.*fn5


After receiving extensive expert reports, briefs, and expert testimony, the district court made the following specific findings of fact:

1. Statistically, the Parole Commission decisions fall within the guideline parameters in 85-90% of the cases, thus [there is] a deviation of only 10-15%.

2. The range contour of the "individualized decisions" is relatively smooth and, for the greatest part, within the guidelines.

3. Nominally the Parole Guidelines are discretionary but in actuality, discretion is so absent that the guidelines are revamped whenever it appears that a percentage of the Parole Commission decisions fall outside of the guideline parameters.

Opinion of the District Court at 13.

The court explicitly disclaimed reliance on statistical evidence alone, however, and considered additional testimony and other submissions relating to the practice of the Commission in acting upon applications of parole. The court stated that when the Commission guidelines are used, "there is little or no room for discretion." Id. Applying these findings of fact to the standard set out in Forman I, the court concluded that the "guidelines are woodenly applied, thus constituting an 'unyielding conduit' [ Forman I, 709 F.2d] at 863, void of substantial flexibility. [ Id.] at 862." Opinion of the District Court at 14 (reprinted in Appendix at 179). The Commission challenges on appeal both the district court's findings of fact and its conclusion of law. Our review of the district court's conclusions of law is plenary, see Tustin v. Heckler, 749 F.2d 1055, 1060 (3d Cir. 1984); we review findings of fact under a clearly erroneous standard of review. Cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52 (a).


Much of the record developed on remand consists of statistical evidence concerning the frequency with which the Commission renders parole decisions within the guideline ranges computed for inmates. Forman contends that during the period covered by those statistics (October 1, 1977, to March 31, 1983), 79.9% to 86.5% of the parole decisions have fallen within the guideline ranges. Those same statistics show some variation in this frequency among the five regional offices of the Commission; for the same period, the highest and lowest rates of compliance by a single regional office are 90.7% and 76.7%. The district court, as we have seen, found that within-guideline decisions accounted for "85% to 90%" of all parole decisions.*fn6 The Commission asserts that both Forman and the district court are mistaken, and submits that, properly interpreted, the data reveal that decisions within the guidelines were rendered, for all regions combined, in 75.4% of the cases, with a regional variance of between 73.5% and 78.3%. We therefore turn to an evaluation of the government's contentions regarding the data.

The discrepancy between the Commission's figures and Forman's is rooted in the different definitions of "within" and "outside" the guidelines employed by the parties. Forman's presentation of the data adopts the convention used in the Annual Reports of the Commission, which counts as "outside" the guidelines only those decisions that must be accompanied by statements of "good cause." See 18 U.S.C. § 4206(c) (Commission must furnish inmate "good cause" justifying a decision outside the appropriate guideline range). All other decisions are included in the "within" category in the annual reports. The Commission, on the other hand, urges that for purposes of determining whether the guidelines are applied with substantial flexibility, a more sophisticated approach to the data is necessary. This approach isolates certain kinds of decisions that are counted as "within" decisions in the annual reports. The Commission submits that for present purposes these cases should be treated as decisions "outside" the guidelines, which, technically, they are, or at least excluded from the data base entirely.

The substance of the Commission's contention arises from the interaction between the function of the Commission and that of the courts in imposing sentences. The two categories of decisions that account for the bulk of the difference between the Commission's figures and the district court's findings are those cases in which the Committee was precluded from exercising its usual latitude by reason of a maximum sentence shorter than an inmate's computed guideline range or a minimum sentence longer than the range. These categories of decisions were described in detail in an affidavit submitted by Dr. Peter Hoffman, Research Director for the Parole Commission and its predecessor, the United States Parole Board, and a major participant in the development and refinement of the guidelines. Portions of Dr. Hoffman's affidavit are rescribed in the margin.*fn7

Forman argues that these cases are properly counted as within the guidelines because in deciding them, the Commission "applies the guidelines to the fullest extent possible." However, the Commission argues persuasively that in these situations a decision that Forman counts as within the guidelines does not in any way indicate the absence of flexibility. Rather, these decisions, which on average accounted for 27% of the Commission's decisions, see note 7, supra (sum of averages for BELOW CTE and ABOVE MJS classifications), are essentially phenomena resulting from the imposition of relatively long or short judicial sentences. As such, these decisions have almost no significance for the inquiry before the court. For example, where a long minimum sentence precludes the Commission from setting a release date within or below the guidelines, we have no way of knowing the decision which the Commission would have rendered based on its evaluation of the relevant factors. In such a case, the Commission is robbed of any discretion to choose among the "within," "above," and "below" categories. All we can know from the data is that the Commission decided not to depart even further from the guidelines range than required by the minimum sentence. Similarly, when the maximum sentence falls below the computed range, we can discern from a Commission decision only its judgment whether it was appropriate to go even further below the guideline range.

When these decisions are excluded from the data base altogether, the average annual percentage of within-guideline decisions drops to 75.4%. We agree with the Commission's argument and we believe that this statistic reflects a representation of the data better suited to present purposes than the data taken by Forman unmodified from the Parole Commission annual reports. We therefore hold that as a matter of law, these categories of anomalous decisions should have been excluded from consideration on the issue of substantial flexibility. Inasmuch as it appears that the district court accepted Forman's characterization of these decisions as "within" the guidelines, the court's finding of fact on this issue was clearly erroneous. We further conclude that a 25% deviation from the prescribed guideline ranges -- that is to say, a finding of "good cause" in one out of every four cases in which such a finding can have any effect on the inmate's release date -- is strong evidence of "substantial flexibility" in the application of the parole guidelines. We thus hold that, under the data of record, the guidelines are being administered with sufficient flexibility and that they do not constitute "laws" for purposes of the ex post facto clause. See Forman I.

It would appear from the unrebutted testimony of Dr. Hoffman at the hearing that this result is no accident. Dr. Hoffman testified that the Commission takes into account all relevant aggravating and mitigating circumstances in setting a release date. Tr. at 70-130. See also 18 U.S.C. § 4206(a); 28 C.F.R. § 2.19. It is true that Dr. Hoffman conceded the routine nature of assigning offense severities in about half the cases decided by the Commission (Tr. at 69); however, his testimony also revealed that assignment of the salient factor scores, designed to assess the likelihood of recidivism by an inmate, involved a much less mechanical inquiry. Tr. at 73-74. Moreover, Dr. Hoffman testified that in many cases, the Commissioners disagree among themselves as to the appropriate decision. Tr. at 89-90. Such evidence is counter-indicative of an "unyielding conduit."

Forman argues that other evidence presented at the hearing also tends to establish the absence of "substantial flexibility." Specifically, Forman pointed to the so-called Principle of Parsimony, a rule contained in the Manual which is distributed to all Commissioners and hearing examiners. Parole Commission Rules and Procedures Manual, 2.23-02 (May 13, 1983). Under the principle, which is presumably what the district court had in mind in finding that the "range and contours of the decisions was relatively smooth," Opinion of the District Court at 13 (reprinted in Appendix at 178), whenever a decision within the guidelines is recommended, it is expected that the release date will be in the lower half of the guideline range unless one or more factors is present. Forman also submitted evidence showing that in Fiscal Year 1983 approximately 45% of decisions within the guideline range fell within the lower half of the range. We cannot agree that the Principle of Parsimony demonstrates the absence of substantial flexibility. The manual itself stresses that the principle "is intended to provide a methodology to promote analysis, not a mechanical rule."*fn8


In sum, we hold that the Adult Guidelines of the Parole Commission are applied with "substantial flexibility" as required by Forman I. Accordingly, the judgment of the district court will be reversed.*fn9

A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge, concurring in the judgment.

In United States ex rel. Forman v. McCall, (" Forman I "), 709 F.2d 852 (3d Cir. 1983) this court held that, as applied to petitioner, the 1979 parole guidelines were both retroactive and disadvantageous. We also held, following Geraghty v. United States Parole Commission (" Geraghty I "), 579 F.2d 238 (3d Cir. 1978), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 445 U.S. 388, 100 S. Ct. 1202, 63 L. Ed. 2d 479 (1980), that the guidelines should be considered "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause if they were "applies without substantial flexibility." 709 F.2d at 862. We remanded for factfinding as to what extent the Parole Commission actually exercised its discretion not to adhere to its parole guidelines. Id. We did not state then, and the majority does not state now, what degree of adherence would suffice to make the guidelines "laws," though it is now apparent that 75.4% adherence is not enough.

The majority now reverses on the ground that the district court's factual findings of 85-90% adherence were clearly erroneous, but I write separately to express an even more fundamental reservation. I believe that the standard announced in Forman I for determining whether the guidelines are "laws" was incorrect under ex post facto clause jurisprudence and unwise as a matter of policy. Because I also reach the conclusion that the guidelines are not "laws," albeit by a different route, I concur in the judgment of the majority. Moreover, I recognize that under our Internal Operating Procedures we are bound to follow a prior panel decision. I urge, however, that the Forman I rule be reconsidered by the court in banc.


An ex post facto law is one that,

makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. . . . [T]hat aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed ... [T]hat changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed ... [T]hat alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender.

Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 386, 390, 1 L. Ed. 648 (1798). Directed principally against the tyrannical and arbitrary exercise of legislative power, n.1 (FOOTNOTE OMITTED) the ex post facto clause protects against laws that are expressions of legislators' "ambition, or personal resentment and vindictive malice," Calder v. Bull, 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) at 389, and "upholds the separation of powers by confining the legislature to penal decisions with prospective effect and the judiciary and executive to applications of existing penal law." Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29 n.10, 67 L. Ed. 2d 17, 101 S. Ct. 960 (1981). Though the preeminent evil of ex post facto laws is the manifestation of excessive and arbitrary legislative power, courts have observed that they also weaken the system of justice by denying citizens the opportunity to know what the law requires and what punishment it exacts. "Through this prohibition, the Framers sought to assure that legislative Acts give fair warning of their effect and permit individuals to rely on their meaning until explicitly changed." Weaver, 450 U.S. at 28-29.*fn2

The Supreme Court was expressly reserved judgment on whether retroactive application of parole guidelines may violate the ex post facto clause. United States Parole Commission v. Geraghty, 445 U.S. 388, 408, 63 L. Ed. 2d 479, 100 S. Ct. 1202 (1980); United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184, 60 L. Ed. 2d 805, 99 S. Ct. 2235 (1979). But its decisions on whether statutory changes affecting the duration of a prisoner's confinement violate the ex post facto prohibition provide some guidance. Weaver, the Court's most recent pronouncement on the subject, establishes a two-part test for determining whether a penal statute is unconstitutional as an ex post facto law when applied to a petitioner whose crime was committed before the statute's enactment: "it must be retrospective, that is, it must apply to events occurring before its enactment, and it must disadvantage the offender affected by it." 450 U.S. at 29 (footnotes omitted). I have no quarrel with Forman I's holdings that the guidelines at issue were retrospectively applied and that they disadvantaged petitioner. Because the Parole Commission's guidelines are administrative regulations rather than statutes, however, this court must consider a third and novel issue, whether the guidelines are "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause.

My disagreement with current Third Circuit law centers around how to conduct this inquiry. In Geraghty I and Forman I, the court established an essentially statistical test -- how many times do the Parole Commission's parole determinations coincide with its guidelines? If the two factors -- outcome and guideline -- are congruent on a sufficient number of occasions, the court suggested, insufficient administrative flexibility would be demonstrated, and the "guidelines" would perforce be "laws." Forman I, 709 F.2d at 862; Geraghty I, 579 F.2d at 266-67. The court has not yet stated what percentage of compliance transforms a guideline into a law.*fn3 But were it to do so, we would have a simple numerical test. After that, the assumption seems to be, the district courts need only periodically check what the current figure is to see whether the Parole Commission is acting as a quasi-legislature. In my view this test is insufficient to determine whether an administrative guideline is a law within the meaning of the ex post facto clause; a statistical tendency does not clothe a guideline with the trappings of a law. As the Supreme Court stated in an analogous context:

No matter how frequently a particular form of clemency hasbeen granted, the statistical probabilities standing alone generate no constitutional protections ; a contrary conclusion would trivialize the Constitution. The groundfor a constitutional claim, if any, must be found in statutesor other rules defining the obligations of the authority charged with exercising clemency.

Connecticut Board of Pardons v. Dumschat, 452 U.S. 458, 465, 69 L. Ed. 2d 158, 101 S. Ct. 2460 (1981) (emphasis added).*fn4

I certainly subscribe to what I understand to be the underlying premise of Geraghty I : that Congress cannot, by delegation, escape constitutional limitations on its power. 579 F.2d at 266. As I interpret this principle, it requires us to examine the scope of the power delegated to the Parole Commission by Congress, rather than the Commission's actual practices. For if Congress intended that the Commission should have relatively unfettered discretion to grant or deny parole in individual cases, it does not matter -- for purposes of ex post facto analysis*fn5 -- that in the great majority of cases the Commission conforms its decisions to the narrower range of options found in the guidelines. It is the intent of Congress, not the practices of the Commission, that determines whether the guidelines are to have the force and effect of laws. Accordingly, I would examine the parole statute and its legislative history to determine whether it established substantial constraints on the Commission's decisionmaking in individual cases. As I discuss in Part II, I find that Congress intended to place no such constraints on the discretion of the Parole Commission.


Parole was first instituted in this country in the 1870's; the Sixty-First Congress established the federal parole system in 1910. Prior to then, legislators viewed the primary purpose of incarceration as retribution and punishment, and prescribed the period of incarceration for each crime with specificity. United States v. Grayson, 438 U.S. 41, 45-46, 57 L. Ed. 2d 582, 98 S. Ct. 2610 (1978). Parole was initially a system for showing clemency to prisoners. Those who behaved well were granted the privilege of supervised release. See Comptroller General of the United States , Federal Parole Practices: Better Management and Legislative Changes are Needed 2 (July 16, 1982) [hereinafter cited as " Federal Parole Practices "]. In 1930, Congress created the United States Board of Parole. Act of May 13, 1930, ch. 255, 46 Stat. 272 (1931). By that time, the legislators had begun to adopt a new penal philosophy. This "medical model" viewed the criminal as ill, imprisonment as a period of cure, and parole as the point at which the prisoner's supervisors deemed him or her sufficiently rehabilitated to be safely released.*fn6

This approach . . . assumed that because it was impossibleto accurately predict how long the cure would take, judges should set only the outside limits of the prison term. Theparole board would assess the progress of the offender towardrehabilitation and decide when the offender should be released.Parole boards were granted wide discretion to make predictionsabout whether a cure had taken place and whether the offender could safely be released into society.

Federal Parole Practices at 2. See also, Warren v. United States Parole Commission, 659 F.2d at 189-190.

The theory that parole release is the proper result of rehabilitation has remained dominant.*fn7 But in 1967, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice criticized the manner in which the federal parole system actually worked. The Commission's two central concerns were that there were no explicit standards for deciding whether and when to parole a prisoner, and that the prisoner received no reliable, written information about his or her release. President's Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society 179-83 (1967). In response to these criticisms, the Parole Board in 1973 instituted parole guidelines to be followed in making all federal parole decisions. 38 Fed. Reg. 31,942 (1973).*fn8

In 1976, Congress made the guideline system a legislative requirement in the Parole Commission and Reorganization Act ("PCRA"), Pub. L. No. 94-233, § 2, 90 Stat. 219 (1978) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § 4203 (1982)). "This legislation was an effort to constrain and guide parole discretion through more rational, consistent, and equitable decisionmaking." Federal Parole Practices at 3. In 1984, Congress, still dissatisfied with both the medical model and the system of sentencing and parole release that the model engendered, passed the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, Pub. L. No. 98-473, 1984 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News (98 Stat.) 1837, 1987. This law provides for the future abolition of parole and the Parole Commission.*fn9

Throughout the evolution of the parole system, courts have viewed parole decisions as essentially discretionary. As recently at 1979, the Supreme Court, discussing Nebraska's parole system, wrote,

in parole releases, like its siblings probation releaseand institutional rehabilitation, few certainties exist.In each case, the decision differs from the traditional moldof judicial decisionmaking in that the choice involves asynthesis of record facts and personal observation filteredthrough the experience of the decisionmaker and leading to apredictive judgment as to what is best both for the individualinmate and for the community.

Greenholtz v. Inmates of the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 8, 60 L. Ed. 2d 668 1, 99 S. Ct. 2100 (1979) (footnote omitted).

In my view, Congress' purpose in passing the PCRA was to promote uniformity in parole decisionmaking and to moderate, though not eliminate, the influence of the medical model by emphasizing notions of just punishment. The PCRA shifted ultimate parole decisionmaking power from individual parole officials to a central Parole Commission, with five regional offices. Congress believed that although "there is no body of competent empirical knowledge upon which parole decision-makers can rely, . . . it is important for the parole process to achieve an aura of fairness by basing determinations of just punishment on comparable periods of incarceration for similar offenses committed under similar circumstances." H.R. Conf. Rep. No. 838, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 26, reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 351, 358 [hereinafter cited as "Conference Report"].*fn10

In order to bring about greater parity in punishment, Congress required the Parole Commission to establish guidelines and procedural rules for parole determinations. The guidelines are intended to be followed by hearing examiners in making recommendations to one of the five regional commissioners, who may adopt the recommendation and enter a decision, or make his or her own decision. Conference Report at 22; 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 354-55; 18 U.S.C. § 4203(a), (b), (c) (1982).

Notwithstanding the goal of reducing the disparity of prison terms for like offenders and offenses, and the establishment of a guideline system toward this end, Congress did not establish substantial constraints on the Parole Commission's discretion in individual cases. In discussing parole release criteria, the Conference Committee stated,

First, it is the intent of the Conferees that the ParoleCommission reach a judgment on the institutional behaviorof each prospective parolee . . . .

Second, it is the intent of the Conferees that theParole Commission review and consider both the natureand circumstances of the offense and the history andcharacteristics of the prisoner.

Conference Report at 25; 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 358 (emphasis added).

In addition to providing that parole depends in the first instance on the individual's prison behavior and individual characteristics, and the circumstances of the offense, the PCRA also allows the Commission to grant or deny parole notwithstanding the guidelines, as long as there is good cause to do so and the prisoner is given a written explanation of the decision. 18 U.S.C. § 4206(c) (1982). The Conference report states that,

the definition of what constitutes good cause to gooutside the established guidelines can not be a preciseone, because it must be broad enough to cover manycircumstances...

...By focusing on the justifications for exceptions tothe guidelines, subsequent administrative review ... willbe facilitated and there will be more uniformity...

If decisions to go above or below parole guidelinesare frequent, the Commission should reevaluate itsguidelines.

Conference Report at 27; 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News at 359-360.

To me, the PCRA's provisions, viewed together, indicate that the Congress took steps toward more uniformity of prison terms, and away from the medical model, but was unwilling to abandon altogether the discretionary determinations about individual prisoners that have historically characterized the parole system.*fn11 There are no sanctions for not following the guidelines. Instead, Congress established a mechanism that both requires a set of guidelines, and encourages their alteration in the event the Parole Commissioners do not follow them.*fn12 In my view, this deliberate flexibility precludes characterizing the guidelines as laws within the meaning of the ex post facto clause. See also Ruip v. United States, 555 F.2d 1331 (6th Cir. 1977); Roth v. United States Parole Commission, 724 F.2d 836 (9th Cir. 1984); Dufresne v. Baer, 744 F.2d 1543 (11th Cir. 1984).


We have now ruled twice that the Parole Commission's practice of applying its regular parole guideline revisions to all current prisoners instead of only to those prisoners who committed offenses on or after the effective date of the latest revision, may violate the Constitution because "if applied without substantial flexibility, the parole guidelines constitute 'laws' within the meaning of the ex post facto clause." Forman I, 709 F.2d at 862; see also Geraghty I, 579 F.2d at 267-68. Notwithstanding these two rulings, we have never actually held that the Parole Commission applies its guidelines without the requisite flexibility and do not do so in this case. Indeed, the meaning of the phrase "substantial flexibility" is so ambiguous that I cannot foresee when we would ever do so. Moreover, as the majority notes, the Forman I test has been rejected by every other circuit that has addressed the issue. See Majority Opinion at footnote 3. To permit such an ambiguity to remain at the center of the daily operation of the United States parole system, in this circuit, would ill serve the parole commissioners and hundreds of parole officers who seek to do an honest job in complying with the law and upholding the Constitution. It would also ill serve the district courts of this circuit, which may now have to reexamine Parole Commission practices each time a prisoner who has been denied parole asserts that he or she has not been treated with the necessary flexibility.

It is for these judicial policy reasons, as well as my belief that the Parole Commission's guidelines are not "laws" within the meaning of the ex post facto clause, that I concur only in the judgment of Forman II, and urge that the rationale of Forman I, and its predecessor, Geraghty I, be considered in banc.

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