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Soza v. Kane

May 31, 2007

ARNULFO SOZA, PETITIONER,
v.
ANTHONY P. KANE, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn Hall Patel United States District Judge

ORDER DENYING HABEAS PETITION

INTRODUCTION

Arnulfo Soza, a prisoner at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, filed this pro se action seeking a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. This matter is now before the court for consideration of the merits of the habeas petition. For the reasons discussed below, the petition will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Arnulfo Soza was convicted in Ventura County Superior Court of second degree murder and was found to have used a firearm. He was sentenced to 17 years to life in state prison in 1982. Soza's habeas petition does not concern that conviction directly, but instead focuses on a July 26, 2004 decision by a panel of the Board of Prison Terms (now known as the Board of Parole Hearings ("BPH")) finding him not suitable for parole.

The BPH identified several factors in support of its determination that Soza was not suitable for parole and would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if he was released. The factors identified included the circumstances of the crime, his criminal and social history, and his insufficient participation in beneficial self-help programming. The specifics regarding the crime and the circumstances supporting the finding of unsuitability are described in the Discussion section later in this order.

Soza sought relief in the California courts. The Ventura County Superior Court denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus in 2004 in a reasoned order. Resp. Exh. 6. The California Court of Appeal summarily denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus and the California Supreme Court summarily denied his petition for review. Resp. Exhs. 7 and 8.

Soza then filed his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court construed the federal petition for writ of habeas corpus to allege a due process violation based on the alleged absence of some evidence to support the BPH's decision and a due process violation due to a biased decision-maker. Respondent filed an answer and petitioner filed a traverse. The matter is now ready for a decision on the merits.

JURISDICTION AND VENUE

This court has subject matter jurisdiction over this habeas action for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This action is in the proper venue because Soza was incarcerated and the challenged action occurred at a prison in Soledad in Monterey County, which is within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).

EXHAUSTION

Prisoners in state custody who wish to challenge collaterally in federal habeas proceedings either the fact or length of their confinement are required first to exhaust state judicial remedies, either on direct appeal or through collateral proceedings, by presenting the highest state court available with a fair opportunity to rule on the merits of each and every claim they seek to raise in federal court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). The parties do not dispute that state court remedies were exhausted for the claims asserted in the petition.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

This court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus "in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication of the claim: "(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409-13 (2000). Section 2254(d) applies to a habeas petition from a state prisoner challenging the denial of parole. See Sass v. California Board of Prison Terms, 461 F.3d 1123, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2006).

The Ventura County Superior Court's decision is the last reasoned decision, and therefore is the decision to which § 2254(d) applies. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803-04 (1991); Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091-92 (9th Cir. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 2041 (2006).

DISCUSSION

A. Biased ...


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