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JOSEPH LANDON BLANKENSHIP v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Case Number: 2019-CA-01756-COA
Judge: Anthony N. Lawrence,
Court: IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI
Plaintiff's Attorney: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
BY: BARBARA WAKELAND BYRD
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Hernando, MS - Criminal defense lawyer represented defendant Joseph Blankenship charged with one count of child exploitation pursuant to Mississippi Code Annotated section 97-5-33(5) (Rev. 2014).
Blankenship was convicted of child exploitation pursuant to section 97-5-33(5) in
2017. Section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) states, “No person who, on or after July 1, 2014, is convicted
of a crime of violence pursuant to Section 97-3-2, a sex crime[,] or an offense that
specifically prohibits parole release shall be eligible for parole.” Section 97-3-2(1)(r)
classifies child exploitation as a crime of violence. As a result, Blankenship was classified
as a violent offender and a sex offender. See Miss. Code Ann. § 45-33-23(h)(viii) (Rev.
1. Blankenship has no constitutional right to parole.
¶5. Blankenship first argues that his parole ineligibility based on his violent-offender
status violates his constitutional right to due process. However, both the Mississippi
Supreme Court and this Court have held that “prisoners have no constitutionally recognized
liberty interest in parole.” Ducksworth v. State, 174 So. 3d 323, 324 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App
2015) (quoting Vice v. State, 679 So. 2d 205, 208 (Miss. 1996)). This is because “[p]arole
is not a judicial matter, but one of legislative grace.” Id. at 325 (¶8) (citing Mitchell v. State,
795 So. 2d 620, 623 (¶8) (Miss. Ct. App. 2001)).
¶6. Equallyimportant,Blankenship’s argumentiswithout merit because he was convicted
of a sex crime, which also renders him ineligible for parole. Mississippi Code Annotated
section 47-7-3(1)(b) (Rev. 2015) states, “Any person who shall have been convicted of a sex
crime shall not be released on parole except for a person under the age of nineteen (19) who
has been convicted under Section 97-3-67.” Blankenship clearly does not fall within that
exception. Further, section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i), stated above, explicitly provides that any person
convicted of a sex crime after July 1, 2014, is ineligible for parole. Accordingly, his
argument is without merit.
2. The circuit court was not required to submit to a jury the issue of
whether Blankenship committed a crime of violence.
¶7. Blankenship also argues that a jury should have decided whether the crime he
committed was a crime of violence in accordance with section 97-3-2. The Mississippi
Supreme Court squarely addressed this issue in Bowman v. State, 283 So. 3d 154, 168 (¶55)
(Miss. 2019), stating that section 97-3-2 “does not impose any sentence on a criminal
defendant that would require a jury’s determination of guilt . . . . Rather, section 97-3-2 is
an enhancement that, along with Mississippi Code Section 47-7-3(1)(g)(i) . . . in specific
instances, deals solely with parole eligibility and early release.” Id. (citing Fogleman v.
State, 283 So. 3d 685, 692 (¶25) (Miss. 2019)). Finally, the supreme court held in Bowman
that there was no violation of the defendant’s “constitutional rights to due process, trial by
an impartial jury, or a jury finding guilt on all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable
doubt.” Id. As a result of the clear rulings in Bowman and Fogleman, this issue is without
Outcome: Because Blankenship was convicted of a sex crime and a per se crime of violence in
accordance with section 97-3-2(1)(r), he is ineligible for parole. See Miss. Code Ann. §§ 47- 7-3(1)(g)(i) & 97-5-33(5). Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court’s judgment.