For anyone facing even the remote possibility of a prison sentence, the issue of parole always arises. Parole is nearly as frustrating for lawyers as for clients, because for every "rule" or "guideline" in the parole system, there seems to be an exception. At the end of the day, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has wide lattitude in who gets parole and when they get it. We can, however, offer the general provisions governing parole in Georgia, although we can make no promises that this will apply to any specific case.
General Provision Controlling Parole Eligibility for Sentences of Less and More Than 21 Years
If you are not a recidivist and your offense does not carry a mandatory minimum amount of time, then your sentence will most likely be controlled by the general guidelines of parole eligibility.
If you receive an aggregate sentence of 21 years or less, you become eligible for consideration for parole after the expiration of 9 months or one-third of the sentence, whichever is greater.
If you receive an aggregate sentence of 21 years or more, you become eligible for consideration for parole after 7 years.
Of course, there are statutory exceptions to these general provisions, which I address further down in this letter.
General Parole Guidelines for Crime Severity Levels of IV or Less
Pursuant to current Parole Board policy, defendants who have committed offenses classified as a Crime Severity Level IV or less are eligible to be considered for parole prior to the completion of one-third of their sentence.
General Parole Guidelines for Crime Severity Level of V or Greater
Pursuant to current Parole Board policy, the Parole Board may vote on the cases of defendants who have committed offenses with a Crime Severity Level V or greater prior to their parole eligibility dates, those dates typically equating to one-third of their sentence. However, the Parole Board will not release those defendants on parole prior to their parole eligibility date.
Sentences of Two Years or Less, Regardless of CSL
Sentences of two years or less are treated uniquely by the Parole Board. Defendants with sentences of two year or less are usually placed on a fast track, and parole consideration for these defendants is not constrained by the general provisions of parole eligibility. An example of this exception can be found in the ability of male defendants who are serving sentences of two years or less, and who meet other criteria identified by the Georgia Department of Corrections, to be transferred from the county jails directly into three or six month Strategic Intervention Programs (SIP) offered at Coastal State Prison and, upon successful completion of those programs, to be released on parole by the Parole Board.
Statutory Exceptions to the General Parole Rules of Parole Eligibility: First Offenders, Life Sentences, Recidivist Offenders and the "Seven Deadly Sins"
The first statutory exception is one that can benefit first offenders. Under OCGA §17-10-1(b), a sentencing judge "may specify in the sentence that the person is sentenced under this subsection and may provide that the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, acting in its sole discretion, may consider and may parole any person so sentenced at any time prior to the completion of any minimum requirement otherwise imposed by law ... The determination allowed in this subsection shall be applicable to first offenders only...".
In other words, a first offender will be eligible for consideration for parole immediately upon the sentence being imposed. Whether the State Board of Pardons and Paroles ("the Parole Board") will agree to consider the person for parole earlier than the normal times is a separate hurdle to clear; however, in having the judge explicitly note on the final disposition sheet that you are sentenced under OCGA §17-10-1(b), the Parole Board has the authority to consider the defendant earlier than the time periods set forth in OCGA §42-9- 45(b).
A second statutory exception is found in OCGA §17-10-6.1, which addresses serious violent felonies (murder, felony murder, armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery). Defendants convicted of serious violent felonies committed after July 31, 1994, who receive term of years sentences will not be eligible for parole.
A third statutory exception is also found in OCGA §17-10-6.1, which addresses life sentences received for serious violent felonies. If you are sentenced to life imprisonment for a serious violent felony committed between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 2006, you will be eligible for consideration for parole upon service of 14 years. If you are sentenced to life imprisonment for a serious violent felony committed on or after July 1, 2006, you will be eligible for consideration for parole upon service of 30 years. Pursuant to current Parole Board policy, upon initial parole consideration, the Parole Board will either grant parole or establish the next consideration date, which will be within the next 8 years.
A fourth statutory exception is found in OCGA §42-9-39, which addresses consecutive life sentences where at least one life sentence is imposed for the crime of murder. Defendants who received consecutive life sentences as the result of offenses occurring in the same series of acts, at least one of which was imposed for the crime of murder, committed between January 1, 1995 and June 30, 2006, shall serve consecutive 10 year periods for each sentence, up to a maximum of 30 years before they will be eligible for consideration for parole.
Defendants who received consecutive life sentences as the result of offenses occurring in the same series of acts, at least one of which was imposed for the crime of murder, committed on or after July 1, 2006, shall serve consecutive 30 year periods for each sentence, up to a maximum of 60 years before they will be eligible for consideration for parole.
A fifth statutory exception is found in OCGA §17-10-7, which addresses repeat offenders. Defendants with prior convictions of serious violent felonies who again are convicted of serious violent felonies must be sentenced to life without parole. Also, defendants convicted a fourth or greater time of any felony must be sentenced to the maximum amount of time allowed for that felony and, additionally, will not be eligible for parole for that sentence.
Notification Requirement Pursuant to OCGA §42-9-46
Pursuant to OCGA §42- 9-46, if the Parole Board exercises its authority under OCGA §42-9-45 (c) to consider you for parole prior to the eligibility requirements set forth in OCGA §42-9-45 (b), the Parole Board must notify the registered victim(s), the sentencing judge, and the district attorney in writing at least ten days prior to its consideration of parole for the defendant. The registered victim(s), the sentencing judge, and the district attorney will be afforded the opportunity to submit a written statement to the Parole Board or appear before the Parole Board to express their views regarding parole of the defendant.
Parole Board Authority to Establish Exceptions to the General Provision Controlling Parole Eligibility Pursuant to OCGA §42-9-45(c)
Not all parole eligibility issues are established directly through statutory provisions. Rather, the Parole Board is given the authority in OCGA §42-9-45(c) to establish its own rules and regulations. As you can imagine, it would be impossible for me to predict what might happen with any particular case, especially one in which the parole board may not consider it until many years from now.
Our main offices are located in Marietta near the Cobb County Superior Courthouse. Attorneys John Steakley, JR Awotona and John Haldi are available Monday through Friday from 9:00 - 5:00, with additional hours by appointment. All initial consultations are free in our office or in jail, as needed. Contact us online or call (404) 835-7595.