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UTAH’S TOP COURT AGREES INMATE DESERVES FAIR SHAKE

SHARE UTAH’S TOP COURT AGREES INMATE DESERVES FAIR SHAKE

The Utah Supreme Court has agreed with a Court of Appeals panel that a Utah State Prison inmate did not get a fair shake from a 3rd District Court judge.

The inmate, David Renn, had petitioned the judge, seeking a review of a Board of Pardons decision to postpone his second parole hearing for seven years.Third District Judge Frank G. Noel ruled that the petition was filed after the 90-day statute of limitations and thus was not valid.

A panel of the Court of Appeals declared that unconstitutional, based on one of its earlier rulings, and ordered the judge to set a new hearing for Renn's petition. The Board of Pardons appealed, and the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court on Thursday, sending the case back to Noel for a new hearing.

"I think the decision is right," said Renn's attorney, Larry S. Jenkins. "He ought to have a chance to explain the concerns he had with the process."

Renn was convicted in 1990 of manslaughter in Sevier County, a second degree felony, and was sentenced to serve an indefinite term of one to 15 years. At his parole hearing in April the next year, the Board of Pardons questioned Renn and heard from a representative of the victim's family.

The board said it needed more information about Renn before it could grant him a parole date. The board ordered a psychological evaluation of Renn and issued an interim decision setting a second parole hearing for July 1995. But when the final decision came out, it postponed Renn's parole rehearing until July 1998.

The next year, Renn filed his petition, telling the judge the board had acted arbitrarily and with "no consistency and no logical reason" in picking a parole rehearing date that exceeded the board's guidelines for manslaughter; in adding three years to his wait; and in not explaining its reasons for adding the three years.

Jenkins said Renn had no prior convictions, and the board's guidelines normally would suggest he be behind bars for 24 months. "He's already been there for five years," Jenkins said.

More far-reaching than the fact Renn will get a new hearing, however, is an academic aspect of the Supreme Court ruling in his case. The high court said Court of Appeals decisions are binding on other state courts, whether the rulings are based on the state constitution or not.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has argued in several cases, as in the Renn case, that appellate decisions on the constitutionality of statutes are not binding.

"To adopt that view would be to disregard the nature of the Court of Appeals' jurisdiction," the Supreme Court opinion, written by Associate Chief Justice I. Daniel Stewart.

"What this does is finally put it to bed," Jenkins said.