Parole - US v Leonard Peltier

Current Actions


 FOIA Documents

  FBI War Against AIM
  Incident at Oglala
  The Trial

 Trial Transcript

  Opening Statements
  Government Case
  The Defense

*Taking of Evidence Ends

  Witness List

 Post-Trial Actions


 Current Actions

  Executive Clemency
  Executive Review

 Home Page

  US -v- Peltier

U.S. v Leonard Peltier (CR NO. C77-3003)


Leonard Peltier received two consecutive life sentences. In the federal system, "life" is generally defined as 30 years. A subsequent escape conviction (and of related charges) resulted in 7 years being added to Leonard's sentence, also to be served consecutively. Therefore, according to the government, he is expected to serve a minimum of 67 years.

The U.S. Parole Commission has established parole guidelines that indicate the range of time to be served prior to release for various combinations of offense (severity) and offender (parole prognosis) characteristics. Consideration of mitigating circumstances as regards the offense is allowed and the time ranges specified by the guidelines are established specifically for cases with good institutional adjustment and program progress. These are only guidelines, however, and parole decisions are made at the discretion of the Commission, i.e., decisions outside of the guidelines may be rendered and have been in the Peltier case.

According to the severity of the offense (the killings of two law enforcement officers), Leonard Peltier was designated as a Category 8 offender, the highest rating possible. Mitigating circumstances have not been considered and the Commission has rated his parole prognosis as poor thereby requiring that Peltier serve 188+ months on his aggregate sentences. There is no upper limit for Category 8 offenders. Therefore, the time Peltier will serve is entirely up to the discretion of the parole authorities.

Due to the length of his sentence, interim hearings are held every two years to consider any significant developments or changes in Mr. Peliter's status since the last full hearing in 1993. The examiner may order no change in the previous decision; or advance a presumptive release date or the date of a 15-year reconsideration hearing. Interim hearings were conducted in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002. Since 2002, Peltier has waived his right to interim hearings.

Parole 2009

Leonard Peltier's first full parole hearing was held in 1993, at which time his case was continued for a 15-year reconsideration. Leonard received his second full parole hearing on July 28, 2009.  Parole was again denied. The decision of the Parole Commission was appealed.  The administrative appeal was denied by the Parole Commission on February 24, 2010.

Chronology and Legal Actions

The U.S. Parole Commission first considered Peltier's parole in December 1993. In a ruling on February 1, 1994, the Parole Commission determined that Peltier would not be considered for parole for 15 years, or until December 2008, after a total imprisonment of 394 months. This amount is more than twice the 188+ months to be served based on Leonard Peltier's aggregate guideline range. The Commission concluded that "a decision more than 48 months above the minimum guideline range is warranted" because Peltier had been "involved in the ambush of two federal officers" and "participated in the premeditated and cold blooded execution of those two officers."

The U.S. Parole Commission has not had available to it and has not reviewed Peltier's trial record at any time, but has relied solely on the intentionally misleading claims of Assistant U.S. Attorney Crooks (who tried the case in 1976), supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (a government agency, including thousands of active and retired agents, that has unfairly been afforded "victim rights" in parole proceedings).

During a December 11, 1995, interim parole proceeding, for example, Crooks claimed for the first time and contrary to the trial record that the agents had gone to the Jumping Bull Ranch to arrest Leonard Peltier and "for no other reason" and that Leonard Peltier's vehicle "was placed at the location of the agents' murders" because "radio transmissions of the two agents monitored just prior to their deaths indicated that they were in pursuit of a red vehicle." However, there was no evidence the "red vehicle" was Peltier's. In fact, Leonard Peltier owned an old green Ford at the time and only borrowed a red and white van on occasion. Neither vehicle was placed at the scene. In fact, the trial record shows that the agents had followed a "red pick-up" and had been looking for a person named Jimmy Eagle, not Leonard Peltier.

In 1995, however, the hearing examiner "concluded after a review of the additional exculpatory evidence [information on withheld ballistics evidence and coerced testimony discovered after the trial under the Freedom of Information Act and presented to the examiner by the defense] that a preponderance finding that Peltier actually executed the agents cannot be made." He stated the original 15-year period before reconsideration for parole "was based on the conclusion that Peltier's conviction had included a specific or directed finding by the jury that Peltier had fired the fatal shots into the agents causing their death." Not finding that this is the case, the examiner found no support for the above-the-guideline decision at the 1993 parole hearing. The examiner recommended a grant of parole.

Without Peltier being provided the opportunity to be present or heard in a hearing held in response to a government challenge to the above examiner's ruling, therefore in violation of Peltier's due process rights, the U.S. Parole Commission ordered on July 12, 1996, a continuance to December 2008 for reconsideration of parole due to the nature of the offense (again based on erroneous information and mistakes of law) and Peltier's "evident decision not to accept criminal responsibility," i.e., in fact, to confess to a crime he did not commit.

During the 1998 interim hearing, the examiner exhibited blatant discrimination when he told Leonard, "I realize that you are what is often called a Native American who is also called an Indian... but the facts of this case are that someone killed these individuals, that they are dead, that they were in fact murdered, and someone from that Nation, someone present on that date, that appears to have been a part of your nation committed these crimes... unfortunately you, Leonard Peltier, are the one and only person who was convicted in this matter..."

On May 23, 1998, the U.S. Parole Commission reaffirmed that Leonard Peltier would not be considered for parole until December 2008, and on October 2, 1998, the National Appeals Board of the U.S. Parole Commission preemptively affirmed the decision. 

During Peltier's June 12, 2000, parole review hearing the parole examiner refused to even read or consider the arguments presented by Leonard's attorneys, and he wrote his recommendation that parole be denied before the hearing was even concluded. Presentations by Amnesty International, the National Congress of American Indians, the Assembly of First Nations, and the National Council of Churches were quickly disregarded. The examiner even refused to read an important report from a physician documenting Leonard's current health risks, which include stroke, blindness, heart disease and kidney failure.

On July 9, 2002, a parole review hearing was held with similar results.

Deciding to extend his period of imprisonment beyond 48 months over the 188-month minimum did require that the U.S. Parole Commission specify the pertinent case factors upon which its decision was based—one possible factor being the lack of mitigating circumstances.

The Commission's reasons for denying parole to Peltier, however, have been:

  • Arbitrary and capricious;

  • Based on animus and erroneous information;

  • Unsupported by the evidence in this case; and

  • Completely inconsistent with the government's position taken in judicial proceedings concerning the case.

Consequently, on June 3, 1999, a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus was submitted to the U.S. District Court in the District of Kansas on the issue of parole, i.e., that Peltier had already served more time than would be customary in any other case, and charging that the U.S. Parole Commission has failed to follow its own congressionally mandated guidelines (PDF Format).

The District Court denied the Habeas Petition and Peltier appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

On December 9, 2002, an Appellant Brief was submitted to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The defense argued that the U.S. Parole Commission arbitrarily exceeded the minimum limit of 188+ months by continuing reconsideration for parole to December 2008, when Peltier will have served twice the amount of time as is normal before a grant of parole is made. In addition, the Commission arbitrarily decided to exceed the upward limit of 48 months provided for level 8 offenders according to its own guidelines. Consequently, Peltier should have been released after serving a sentence that falls within the range of a minimum of nearly 16 years and a maximum of nearly 20 years. Peltier has now served over 30 years for a crime he did not commit (PDF Format).

On January 29, 2003, a Reply Brief was submitted (Word).

A subsequent Motion to include an amicus brief was denied.

On September 19, 2003, oral arguments were heard before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado.

On November 4, 2003, the lower court's decision was affirmed. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals stated: "Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and in its prosecution of Leonard Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed." Yet, the court claimed it lacked power to address the issues surrounding the application of existing parole guidelines by the U.S. Parole Commission (Word document). 

The Legal Team, on November 17, 2003, filed a Petition for Rehearing en banc  (PDF Format).

On December 11, 2003, the appellate court denied the Petition for rehearing.

On March 5, 2004, a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court (PDF Format).

On April 19, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Peltier's case.

Other Actions

On August 6, 2002, a Joint Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus was submitted to the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, Case No. 1:02CV1629 (RJL). This appeal concerns the unconstitutional application of the Sentencing Reform Act (under which prisoners sentenced "under the old system" were to be issued release dates no later than October 1989) by the U.S. Parole Commission. Click here to learn more about this appeal.

You also may wish to review the Civil Complaint regarding the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984.

A civil action regarding sentence computation and mandatory release was filed in 2007:

Peltier v. United States Bureau of Prisons et al.

Case Number: 3:2007cv00416
Filed: March 5, 2007
Court: Pennsylvania Middle District Court
Office: Scranton Office
County: Centre
Presiding Judge: Honorable Edwin M. Kosik
Referring Judge: Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt
Nature of Suit: Civil Rights - Other Civil Rights
Cause: 28:1331 Federal Question: Other Civil Rights
Jurisdiction: U.S. Government Defendant

Jury Demanded By:


The government's Motion to Dismiss was GRANTED on November 20, 2007. See the Report and Recommendation and Memorandum and Order.


Copyright 2003-2015 International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

Last Updated on Wednesday April 15, 2015