The state parole board’s sole reliance on an inmate’s crime, without factoring in his rehabilitative efforts or the fact that the panel’s own risk assessment tool concluded he is unlikely to re-offend, warrants a rare reversal of the agency’s determination, an upstate judge has held.

Acting Rensselaer County Supreme Court Justice Henry Zwack (See Profile), sitting in Albany Country, said he could find no rationale, except for the underlying crime, for keeping Robert Stokes in prison. He noted the law was “clear that the nature and severity of the crime standing alone is not sufficient to sustain a denial of parole.”

Zwack granted Stokes’ pro se petition for a new hearing.

Stokes v. Stanford, 2014 NY Slip Op 50899, centers on a man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1994 in exchange for a sentence of 15 years to life. Stokes has been denied parole four times, and the most recent denial “fails to make any analysis of the steps toward rehabilitation, or his post-release plans, and why and how those factors were dismissed,” Zwack said.

The judge noted that since his prior appearance, Stokes has had a clean disciplinary record, obtained his GED degree, undergone vocational training, arranged for post-release living accommodations and was rated at low risk for violence, re-arrest or absconding.

“[T]he inescapable conclusion is that petitioner was denied parole simply on the basis of the serious nature of his crime,” Zwack wrote. “Although the determination parrots the applicable statutory language, the board does not even attempt to explain the disconnect between its conclusion and petitioner’s rehabilitation efforts and his low risk scores.”

Assistant Attorney General Colleen Galligan argued for the parole board.