The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn Hall Patel United States District Judge
ORDER DENYING HABEAS PETITION
Kenyatta Arnold, a prisoner at San Quentin State Prison, 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 pro se habeas petition. For the reasons discussed below, the petition will be denied.
Kenyatta Arnold was convicted in Alameda County Superior Court of second degree murder and was sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison. Arnold's habeas petition does not concern that 1983 conviction directly, but instead focuses on an August 27, 2003 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 Arnold 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 escalating pattern of criminal conduct before the murder, the recency of his positive programming in prison, and a concern about his involvement in the Ansar El Mohammad group. The specifics regarding the crime and the circumstances supporting the finding of unsuitability are described in the Discussion section later in this order.
Arnold sought relief in the California courts. The Alameda County Superior Court denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus in 2004 in a short order. Resp. Exh. 21. 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. 23 and 26.
Arnold then filed his federal petition for writ of habeas corpus. The court construed Arnold's 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. Respondent filed an answer and petitioner filed a traverse. The matter is now ready for a decision on the merits.
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 Arnold was incarcerated and the challenged action occurred at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County, within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. §§ 84, 2241(d).
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 claim asserted in the petition.
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).
Where, as here, the state court gives no reasoned explanation of its decision on a petitioner's federal claim, the federal habeas court does an independent review of the record as it is the only means of deciding whether the state court's decision was objectively reasonable. See Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). The Alameda County Superior Court's decision was so short and conclusory that it does not qualify as a reasoned explanation. See Resp. Exh. 21. The ...