Bobby Sneed, shortly after the May 2021 vote to deny his parole.

Bobby Sneed, the Louisiana prisoner who appeared to have won his freedom this month after suing the state parole board, was technically released from Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola last Friday, Dec. 10, following a state court judge’s order — the second mandating his release in less than a month. 

But the release was extremely short-lived. Following his release from Angola, Sneed was immediately rearrested and sent to a nearby jail. His arrest was related to a warrant issued by the parole board and based on an alleged parole violation that occurred last month — while he was still in prison. 

“At the precise moment that Mr. Sneed was ‘released’ from Angola this evening, he was ‘rearrested’ by [Angola Warden Tim] Hooper on a warrant issued by the Board of Parole, and has now been taken to the West Feliciana Detention Center,” Sneed’s lawyer, Thomas Frampton, wrote in a federal court filing last Friday, shortly after the transfer took place. “This latest illegal and retaliatory move by the Board of Parole—yet another foul blow in their Javert-like pursuit of Mr. Sneed—is an effort to prolong Mr. Sneed’s unconstitutional detention.” 

According to online jail records, as of Thursday afternoon Sneed was still being held at the West Feliciana facility. 

Meanwhile, lawsuits in both state and federal court regarding Sneed’s ongoing incarceration continue to play out, and the Louisiana Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a new ruling that the district court was wrong to order Sneed released on parole. Instead, the justices said, the judge should have sent the matter to the parole board to conduct a revocation hearing. 

Following Sneed’s rearrest on Friday, Frampton also filed a petition of habeas corpus in federal court, naming Hooper, and later the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff, arguing that Sneed could not have committed a parole violation last month because he had not yet been granted parole, and that his continued incarceration is illegal.

Sneed has been fighting for his release through the federal and state court system for nearly seven months after the board stripped his parole in May, about two months after board members unanimously approved his release.

Days before his scheduled release in March, Sneed collapsed in the prison in what officials alleged was a drug overdose. He remained in prison beyond his release date pending a disciplinary hearing. 

In early May, Sneed was acquitted of the charge by the prison’s disciplinary board, which would typically mean it would not affect his parole. However, a single member of the parole board moved to rescind Sneed’s parole. The following week, the parole board convened a second hearing during which Sneed was not able to present evidence, call witnesses, or view the evidence against him. The board voted to strip Sneed’s parole.

In doing so, lawyers for Sneed have argued, the parole board violated state and federal law, along with their own policies. Earlier this month, the Louisiana Supreme Court weighed in on the issue, and agreed that because Sneed’s original release date had already passed, he should have been afforded greater due-process protections, those applied to people who have been released and face revocation for allegedly violating the terms of their parole. 

The Supreme Court sent the case back down to the Baton Rouge district judge, who last week ordered Sneed released from prison.

Lawyers with Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office, who are representing the parole board, asked an appellate court to review that order, arguing that district judges cannot order a prisoner released on parole. That ultimately led to the new Louisiana Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday in which the justices agreed that “immediate release is not an available remedy for the district court’s finding that Mr. Sneed’s due process rights were violated.” 

After the state Supreme Court ruling, Frampton filed an emergency request for a hearing in Sneed’s federal case, arguing that federal intervention was required to end what he alleges is Sneed’s unconstitutional incarceration.

“In the past several hours, actions taken by the Louisiana courts (and nearly a dozen lawyers working for the State of Louisiana) have reinforced the necessity of immediate federal intervention in this case,” the filing reads. “Harkening back to some of the bleakest periods in this Nation’s history, the Louisiana Supreme Court has issued a set of remarkable rulings: even while affirming that Mr. Sneed’s Fourteenth Amendment rights have been violated, the Court held that state courts have no authority to release a prisoner imprisoned in violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

Sneed, who was convicted as a “principal to murder” for his role as a lookout in a 1974 robbery during which a man was killed, will turn 75 years old on Saturday. 

New disciplinary infraction

The warrant issued by the parole board on December 10  — signed by a single member, Pearl Wise — alleges that Sneed violated the terms of his parole when he was found guilty for a disciplinary write up in mid-November after allegedly being found with an eyedropper containing PCP. 

According to a disciplinary report, Sneed was found unresponsive on November 9 by guards. They shook him down and found “one eyedropper containing unknown liquid substance inside the bottle,” and wrote him up for contraband. 

At a disciplinary hearing weeks later, Sneed was found guilty. He was sentenced to one day in solitary confinement. Having already spent 20 days there pending his hearing, he was given credit for time served. *

At the time, Sneed had not been issued a certificate of parole and had no parole officer. It has been the consistent position of the parole board that Sneed’s parole was legally rescinded last May, a position that Frampton is now attempting to turn back on the board. 

“Mr. Sneed could not have committed a ‘parole violation’ on November 9, 2021 because he was not released on parole until December 10, 2021,” Frampton wrote in the emergency federal filing. “It is undisputed that Mr. Sneed was not ‘released on parole’ (if ever) until December 10, 2021, was not under the supervision of a parole officer, and had not received a ‘Certificate of Parole’ outlining the conditions of his parole. And Respondent Hooper and the Board of Parole (as this Court knows well) have insisted for the past six months that Mr. Sneed was not a parolee at any time.” 

Lawyers for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections have argued that they were simply carrying out the warrant that had been issued by the parole board.

“Again, it cannot be said more forcefully that neither Warden Tim Hooper nor DOC had either

involvement or any authority with regard to the Committee’s decision to issue the arrest warrant

for Mr. Sneed,” they wrote in a reply to Sneed’s federal habeas petition. “The issuance of a warrant due to violations of the conditions of parole is solely within the discretion and authority of the Committee on Parole—not the warden of a prison or any employee of DOC.”

A status conference on Sneed’s petition for habeas corpus was held on Tuesday in federal court. That meeting was closed to the public, but in a subsequent filing District Judge John W. deGravelles, who is handling the matter, wrote that he had “expressed frustrations and concerns with this case.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Sneed was given one additional day in solitary confinement as a sentence for his disciplinary infraction in addition to the 20 days he had already served. In fact, he was only sentenced to one day total, and given credit for time served. (December 16, 2021)

Nick Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...