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Howard v. Yates

September 2, 2008

RONALD DEAN HOWARD, JR., PETITIONER,
v.
JAMES A. YATES, WARDEN,*FN1 RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur L. Alarcón United States Circuit Judge

ORDER

Pending before the Court are Ronald Dean Howard, Jr.'s ("Petitioner") application for a writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (doc. 1), Respondent's Answer (doc. 11), and Petitioner's Reply (doc. 18). For the reasons discussed below, Petitioner's application is denied.

I.

On May 10, 2000, a Fresno County Superior Court jury found Petitioner guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving with a blood alcohol content over .08, drunk driving with bodily injury, and enhancements for inflicting great bodily injury and injuring or killing more than one person. (Answer, Ex. 1). Petitioner was sentenced to nine years and eight months in prison. (Answer, Ex. 1). This Court's independent research reveals that Petitioner filed a direct appeal in the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District on June 22, 2000, case number F035932. Petitioner filed a petition for review of the California Court of Appeal's decision in the California Supreme Court on September 20, 2001, case number S100725. The Supreme Court denied the petition on October 24, 2001.

Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in Fresno County Superior Court on April 27, 2005, case number 05CRW677449. On May 9, 2005, the Fresno County Superior Court denied Petitioner's petition, stating: "The I.W.T.I.P. does not override existing statutory restrictions on petitioner's ability to accrue time credits." On May 25, 2005, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District. That court denied the petition without comment on August 4, 2005. On August 18, 2005, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. The petition was denied summarily.

II.

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a state court judgment:

[s]hall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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).

In reviewing a state court decision, the Court looks to the last reasoned state court decision. Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). Therefore, in assessing Petitioner's entitlement to habeas relief, this Court must review the Fresno County Superior Court's order denying the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Franklin v. Johnson, 290 F.3d 1223, 1233 n. 3 (9th Cir. 2002) (explaining that when a subsequent appeal is denied without comment, a federal court must look to the last state court decision to actually address a claim).

III.

A.

Petitioner's federal habeas petition raises several claims for relief. First, Petitioner argues that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("C.D.C.R.") deprived him of his constitutionally guaranteed liberty interest in half-time behavioral credits. (Petition at 3, 5; Reply at 2). Next, he claims that the C.D.C.R. denied him equal protection by awarding California Penal Code § 2934 waivers to similarly situated inmates. (Petition at 4-5). Third, Petitioner argues that the Court should estop Respondent from withholding behavioral credits under the doctrine of equitable estoppel. (Petition at 8-9).

B.

California's original early release program permitted inmates convicted of crimes before January 1, 1983 to "reduce [their] term[s] under such section by one-third for good behavior and participation consistent with subdivision (d) of Section 1170.2." § 2931. California Penal Code § 2931(d) explicitly stated: "This section ...


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