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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Africa v. Oliver, No. 18-4235; 18-4236, 2019 WL 95455 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 2, 2019) (slip copy)

January 31, 2019

Petitioners filed actions under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 asserting that decisions of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole to deny them parole violated their substantive due process rights.  During the process, the parole board voluntarily produced to petitioners most of the documents contained in their files, but withheld the letters and statements of victims collected by the victim advocate regarding the petitioners.  Before the court were petitioners’ motions to compel discovery.  The rules governing habeas cases permits courts to authorize discovery in habeas corpus proceedings for good cause.  Good cause is demonstrated when specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that the petitioners may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that they are entitled to relief.  The court concluded that good cause existed for discovery of records from the Office of the Victim Advocate.  This information would permit petitioners to investigate the extent to which any input from the victims influenced the parole board’s decisions.  It may also inform whether the parole board’s decisions were arbitrary and whether the justifications provided by the parole board in its notices of decision were pretext.  The parole board contended that the documents should not be subject to production because they were protected under Pennsylvania law, in particular the section of Pennsylvania’s Constitution that provides that certain information victims provide to the board shall not be released to the inmate.  However, the petitioners in this case asserted a violation of their federal constitutional rights, and thus any state law privileges were not applicable.  The court concluded that a protective order would be sufficient to protect the rights of the victims while allowing for discovery of potentially relevant information.  Accordingly, the motions to compel production of the Office of Victim Advocate documents were granted subject to a protective order.