It has been reported that spree killer Myles Sanderson was previously released on parole despite having been convicted of a large number of violent offences.

Since it is hardly the first time that this has happened, I was wondering if there are any legal jurisdictions where parole board members can be held legally liable for the actions of the people that they parole? If so, what is their level of liability?

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    Under such a system, why would anyone be willing to serve on a parole board? And if they did, why would they ever grant parole to any applicant, given the personal risks involved? Sep 7, 2022 at 14:30
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    @NateEldredge Good question, but currently they apparently have authority without a balancing responsibility, which is a generally a recipe for disaster.
    – DrMcCleod
    Sep 7, 2022 at 15:59
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    There is one, but all of their parole board seats are currently vacant. For some reason, nobody wants the job. Sep 7, 2022 at 20:07
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    @DrMcCleod Isn't that how most discretionary roles in government work though? Judges don't face personal liability if they choose not to impose a sentence of incarceration for someone who goes on to commit other crimes. Driving test examiners don't face personal liability if they pass someone who goes on to cause a lot of crashes. Legislators don't face personal liability if they pass a law that turns out to be an expensive fiasco. The balancing responsibility is usually just "you can lose your job." (I'm excluding unusual circumstances involving a gross abuse of authority like bribery). Sep 7, 2022 at 23:37
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    @NateEldredge Why does anyone do anything that could potentially result in liability? Because we don't all live our lives worrying about worst-case disasters. The job needs to be done, and someone needs to do it.
    – Barmar
    Sep 8, 2022 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


In Grimm v. Arizona Bd. of Pardons & Paroles, 115 Ariz. 260 defendants were found liable for "grossly negligent and reckless release of prisoner Mitchell Thomas Blazak" resulting in death. That case led to a significant holding,

we now abolish the absolute immunity previously granted to public officials in their discretionary functions

In Tarter v. NY, 113 A.D.2d 587, liability was found for release of a convict who then injured a person: the board negligently failed to follow statutory criteria and the board's own guidelines, not acting "in accordance with law".

With respect to the decision by the parole board to release a prisoner, the statute directs that certain factors and criteria be considered, mandates that the parole board follow guidelines established for that purpose, and provides that any determination is deemed a judicial function and shall not be reviewable if done in accordance with law

The key here is that states may have laws governing the release of prisoners, so parole is not a purely discretionary act, there may be statutory limits.

  • But see Julio A. Thompson, "A Board Does Not a Bench Make: Denying Quasi-Judicial Immunity to Parole Board Members in Section 1983 Damages Actions" 87(1) Michigan Law Review 241-275 (Oct., 1988). jstor.org/stable/1289150 This observes that there is absolute immunity for parole board officials under 42 USC 1983. Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1302-03 (9th Cir. 1981),
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2022 at 18:45
  • Good catch. I wasn't aware of these minority rule cases.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2022 at 19:04

In the , parole board members are generally considered to be carrying out a quasi-judicial function, i.e., determining an appropriate sentence for a defendant, and therefore entitled to judicial immunity.

Judicial immunity operates as a complete bar to civil liability for monetary damages, so the board would essentially have no exposure to liability.

Judges enjoy absolute immunity from civil rights suits in order to keep the judicial decision-making process pristine. ... Just as the decision-making process of judges must be kept free from fear, so must that of parole board officials. Without this protection, there is the same danger that the decision-maker might not impartially adjudicate the often difficult cases that come before them. If parole board officials had to anticipate that each time they rejected a prisoner's application for parole, they would have to defend that decision in federal court, their already difficult task of balancing the risk involved in releasing a prisoner whose rehabilitation is uncertain against the public's right to safety would become almost impossible.

Sellars v. Procunier, 641 F.2d 1295, 1303 (9th Cir. 1981).

Parole board members whose errors proximately cause an injury to a third party would therefore likely be exposed to punishment only through criminal law or adverse employment consequences.

  • "Are their any legal jurisdictions where members of parole boards are accountable for crimes committed by parolees?" tl'dr "No."
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2022 at 14:27

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