SHARPNACK, Chief Judge.
Sarah White appeals the trial court's order granting the Indiana Parole Board's motion for judgment on the pleadings raised in response to her claim that she is entitled to be considered for parole. White raises one issue which we restate as whether White was entitled to parole consideration as one serving a life sentence under the parole statutes in effect at the time of her conviction. We affirm.
The facts most favorable to the judgment follow. In December of 1974, White set a fire that resulted in the death of six people. The State charged her with six counts of felony murder of which she was found guilty in 1975. The trial court sentenced her to six concurrent life sentences. During the time of her imprisonment, the Board has refused to consider White for parole. Consequently, she filed a complaint for mandamus and declaratory judgment in 1997 alleging that she is eligible for parole consideration under Ind. Code § 11-1-1-9. The Board filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings which the trial court granted.
The sole issue is whether White, as an inmate sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975, was then entitled to parole consideration. It has long been the law in Indiana that the Parole Board has almost absolute discretion in carrying out its duties and that it is not subject to the supervision or control of the Courts. Murphy v. Indiana Parole Bd., 272 Ind. 200, 397 N.E.2d 259, 261 (Ind. 1979). Indeed, there is no constitutional or inherent right to parole release. Id. Thus, our review of a decision from the Parole Board is limited to a determination of whether "the requirements of Due Process have been met and that the Parole Board has acted within the scope of its powers." Id. These powers are defined by statute. Id. Consequently, any right to parole release in Indiana must emanate from the parole release statutes. Id. at 263. Our supreme court has held:
White v. State, 263 Ind. 302, 309, 330 N.E.2d 84, 88 (Ind.1975). Therefore, our review of whether White is entitled to parole consideration will be limited to statutory construction.
Although this is not a criminal appeal, the subject matter of this appeal involves a determination of whether White is eligible to be considered for parole from her criminal convictions. "One of our well established rules of criminal law is that the controlling law is that which is in effect at the time the crime is committed." Smith v. State, 675 N.E.2d 693, 695 (Ind.1996) (citation omitted). Therefore, the controlling statutes in this case will be those in effect at the time White committed her criminal act that resulted in the deaths of six people. See id.
White argues that, pursuant to I.C. § 11-1-1-9, any prisoner not sentenced to death was eligible to be considered for parole. The state responds by arguing that I.C. § 11-1-1-9.1 controlled White's eligibility for parole. However, the resolution of this issues does not depend on these two statutes alone. Rather, the history of our parole release statutes reveals three applicable statutes existing at the time of White's conviction (I.C. §§ 11-1-1-9, 11-1-1-9.1, and 11-7-1-1) and a strong relationship between parole release and good time statutes. Consequently, we first briefly review the history of parole statutes in Indiana.
The earliest enacted statute regarding parole in effect at the time of White's conviction was I.C. § 11-7-1-1 which was first enacted in 1897. I.C. § 11-7-1-1 (originally § 13-246, Acts 1897, ch. 143, § 3, p. 219) (repealed 1978). At the time of White's conviction, the statute read in relevant part:
I.C. § 11-7-1-1 (emphasis added).
Despite being ineligible for parole, those serving determinate sentences were eligible for early release. Specifically, they were eligible for good time credits under I.C. § 11-7-6-1 which was first enacted in 1933. I.C. § 11-7-6-1 (originally § 13-116, Acts 1933, ch. 164, § 1, p. 858) (repealed 1974, current version at § 35-50-6). Moreover, until 1955, only those serving determinate
In 1953, the state legislature complemented the still existing § 11-7-1-1 by charging the board of parole "with the duty, in the manner provided by law, of determining what prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence may be released on parole and when and under what conditions." I.C. § 13-1529 (Acts 1953, ch. 266, §§ 28-39, p. 944) (repealed 1961, Acts 1961, ch. 343, § 43). That same year, the state legislature also enacted a statute which provided good time credit toward parole for those serving indeterminate sentences. I.C. § 11-7-7-1 (Burns 1973) (originally I.C. § 13-119a, Acts 1955, ch. 160, § 1, p. 311) (repealed 1974, Acts 1974, P.L. 43, § 3, current version at § 35-50-6); Dotson v. State, 258 Ind. at 585 282 N.E.2d at 815.
I.C. § 11-7-7-1 (emphasis added). Thus, inmates serving either a determinate or an indeterminate sentence were eligible to earn good time while only those serving indeterminate sentences were eligible for parole. Id.; Taylor v. State, 251 Ind. 236, 243, 236 N.E.2d 825, 829 (Ind.1968). However, those inmates serving life sentences were neither eligible for parole nor good time credit. A life sentence was considered not to be a determinate or indeterminate sentence. Jones, 372 N.E.2d at 1164 (citing Brown v. State, 262 Ind. 629, 322 N.E.2d 708, 711 (Ind.1975)). Because the good time and parole eligibility statutes specified their applicability to those sentences classified as determinate and indeterminate, a prisoner serving a life sentence was not eligible to earn good time or be paroled.
In 1961, the state legislature enacted what became I.C. § 11-1-1-9. The statute read in relevant part:
I.C. § 11-1-1-9 (originally I.C. § 13-1609, Acts 1961, ch. 343, § 9, p. 1051) (repealed 1980, Acts 1979, P.L. 120, § 22). Although I.C. § 11-1-1-9 by its terms appears all inclusive, we conclude that its language authorizing the parole board "to release on parole... any person confined in any penal or correctional institution in this state except persons under sentence of death" to be a broad grant of authority circumscribed by I.C. § 11-7-1-1. For, although the legislature repealed §§ 13-1528 — 13-1546 with Acts 1961, ch. 343, it noticeably left I.C. § 11-7-1-1 intact. I.C. § 11-7-1-1 (Burns 1973); Feggins v. State, 265 Ind. 674, 684, 359 N.E.2d 517, 523 (Ind.1977) (citing I.C. § 11-7-1-1 (Burns 1973) as our parole statute).
In 1974, the state legislature enacted I.C. § 11-1-1-9.1 which read:
I.C. § 11-1-1-9.1 (Burns 1980 Supp.) (Acts 1974, P.L. 43, § 2) (repealed 1980, Acts 1979, P.L. 120, § 22, current version at § 11-13-3-2). Under the statute, those inmates serving determinate sentences were for the first time eligible for parole.
(Burns 1980 Supp.) (Acts 1979, P.L. 119, § 1).
From our review of the history of the parole eligibility statutes, we first conclude
Second, the state legislature did not specify within the parole eligibility statutes the point at which an individual inmate serving a particular type of sentence becomes eligible for parole consideration until that type of sentence had also obtained statutorily recognized parole eligibility. As for life sentences, the state legislature did not provide any method for determining when an inmate serving a life sentence could possibly become eligible for parole consideration until 1979, well after White's conviction and sentence. Without such direction from the state legislature, we find it difficult to see how parole could apply to those serving life sentences. When would such an inmate become eligible for parole consideration? Without such direction, we cannot presume the legislature intended to provide those inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole. Nor are we at liberty to dispute or infringe upon the legislature's prerogative. See White, 263 Ind. at 309, 330 N.E.2d at 88 (Ind.1975).
Third, this statutory construction is consistent with the treatment of "lifers" with respect to good time and other benefits conferred upon "non-lifers" at the time of White's conviction. See Jennings v. State, 270 Ind. 699, 702, 389 N.E.2d 283, 285 (Ind. 1979). Our supreme court has held:
In addition, our supreme court has held:
Jones, 267 Ind. at 624, 372 N.E.2d at 1166. Until 1979, there existed no statutory provision providing parole eligibility to those serving life sentences. We conclude this exclusion is consistent with the legislature's intent to deprive those serving life sentences of good time credit. Consequently, we conclude the legislature specifically intended to deprive those serving life sentences of statutory eligibility until 1979. We are not at liberty to dispute or infringe upon the legislature's prerogative. See White, 330 N.E.2d at 88, 263 Ind. at 309 (Ind.1975). As our supreme court held in Jennings, "[a]s one under a life sentence, the petitioner's ultimate release is dependent entirely upon executive clemency, which may be exercised, or withheld, at the will of the Governor." Jennings, 270 Ind. at 702, 389 N.E.2d at 286.
Finally, although the legislature in 1979 provided parole eligibility to those serving "a" life sentence, the legislature specifically denied the possibility of parole to anyone serving more than one life sentence. I.C. § 11-1-1-9.1. As this remains consistent with our observation that the parole eligibility statutes have progressively become less restrictive, we do not see how the statutes and legislative intent prior to 1979 could be construed so as to provide the possibility of parole to those serving any number of life sentences. Therefore, we conclude the legislature has always intended to deny the possibility of parole to inmates such as White who is currently serving six life sentences.
Considering the ordinary and plain meaning of the language used in I.C. § 11-1-1-9.1, we conclude that at the time of White's conviction, inmates serving life sentences were not intended by the legislature to be
For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the trial court's order granting the Board's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
BROOK, J. concurs.
SULLIVAN, J. dissents with separate opinion.
SULLIVAN, Judge, dissenting.
White contends upon appeal that she is entitled to parole "under the law prevailing at the time of her offense." App. Br. at 4; see also 3, 6, 8 and 15. She does not claim a right to parole consideration by virtue of any ameliorative provision of a statute passed since her conviction and sentencing in 1975. We, therefore, are not called upon to apply or reject application of the doctrine of amelioration, or its functional equivalent. Be that as it may, Smith v. State (1996) Ind., 675 N.E.2d 693, relied upon by the majority, was indeed a criminal appeal from the defendant's sentencing and clearly, therefore, the sentencing statutes in effect at the time of the commission of the offense were controlling.
This appeal is from a judgment denying White's complaint for Mandamus and Declaratory Judgment. The complaint sought a declaration that she was eligible for parole despite having been sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. To be sure, the issues are very much intertwined with the penal process but, in actuality, the issues do not relate directly to the matters of criminal conviction or sentencing. Rather, they relate to whether or not the inmate is eligible to be considered by the administrative agency, the Indiana Parole Board, for release prior to the time fixed by the sentence imposed. Murphy v. Indiana Parole Board (1979) 272 Ind. 200, 397 N.E.2d 259.
Parole is a discretionary boon by the State, granting an early release notwithstanding the terms of the sentence imposed. In fact, parole does not shorten the term of the sentence imposed. While it is an amelioration of punishment, the parolee remains in the legal custody of the parole agent and the Department of Correction until expiration of the sentence imposed. Overlade v. Wells (1955) 234 Ind. 436, 127 N.E.2d 686. Furthermore, although there is no right of appeal from a denial of parole, the matter of eligibility for parole consideration is a matter subject to resolution by the courts. See Murphy v. Indiana Parole Board, supra. My point of disagreement leads me to observe that the functional equivalent of the doctrine of amelioration may very well be applicable to matters of parole, under appropriate circumstances.
My dissent, however, rests upon what I perceive to be the clear and unambiguous language of the 1961 legislation, I.C. 11-1-1-9, as it existed in 1975. That provision for parole eligibility applied to "any person confined in any penal or correctional institution in this state except persons under sentence of death." (emphasis supplied). It did not say "any person except those serving life sentences, determinate sentences or under sentence of death." Accordingly, it is my view that persons serving determinate sentences were, contrary to the holding of the majority here, eligible for parole prior to enactment of the 1974 Act.
The latter statute, I.C. 11-1-1-9.1 merely set forth the time at which a determinate or indeterminate sentence prisoner became eligible for parole. It did not purport to determine
Similarly, the 1979 amendment which specified the time at which prisoners under a life sentence became eligible does not mean that they had previously not been eligible but rather provided the Parole Board with a statutory time frame at which that eligibility was to be acted upon. Prior to the 1979 amendment, and prior to the 1974 enactment of I.C. 11-1-1-9.1, persons under determinate and indeterminate sentences, were not excluded from the "any person" provision of I.C. 11-1-1-9. That the precise methodology and time factors governing the Parole Board in their activities were not in place by enactment of the General Assembly, does not warrant a conclusion that I.C. 11-1-1-9 was totally meaningless and without effect. That statute, itself, contained authorization for the Parole Board to adopt rules and regulations for exercising its parole authority. That the Board did not do so, or did not do so with the specificity set forth by the legislature in I.C. 11-1-1-9.1, should not be interpreted as some indication of legislative intent that persons under life sentences be excluded from parole consideration; nor is it an invitation for us to retroactively repeal I.C. 11-1-1-9.
I would reverse and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with the views expressed herein.