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Cyprien v. Swarthout

April 26, 2010

TONY CYPRIEN, PETITIONER,
v.
GARY SWARTHOUT,*FN1 WARDEN (A), CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON, SOLANO, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Petitioner, Tony Cyprien, a state prisoner appearing pro se, has filed a petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Cyprien is currently in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, incarcerated at the California State Prison, Solano. Respondent has answered, and Cyprien has replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

Following a jury trial in September 1986, Cyprien was convicted in the Los Angeles County Superior Court of first-degree murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187), with a firearm enhancement (Cal. Penal Code § 12022(a)). Cyprien was sentenced to a prison term of 26 years to life. Cyprien does not challenge his conviction or sentence in this proceeding. In September 2006, represented by counsel, Cyprien made his second appearance before the Board of Parole Hearings ("Board"), which declined to set a parole date for three years. Cyprien, appearing pro se, timely petitioned the Los Angeles County Superior Court for habeas corpus relief. The Los Angeles County Superior Court denied his petition in an unreported, reasoned opinion. Cyprien then filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, which summarily denied his petition without opinion or citation to authority. Cyprien timely filed a petition for review of the California Court Appeal decision in the California Supreme Court, which the California Supreme Court summarily denied without opinion or citation to authority on February 13, 2008. Cyprien timely filed his petition for relief in this Court on February 16, 2008.

The facts of the crime of which Cyprien was convicted, as recited by the Los Angeles County Superior Court are:

The record reflects that on September 4, 1985, petitioner and several other members of the Front Street Crips street gang approached the victim. One of the Crips asked the victim where he was from to determine if he was in a rival gang. Before the victim was able to answer, petitioner shot at him. The victim died from multiple gunshot wounds. The shooting was retaliation for a shooting of a fellow gang member.*fn2

II. GROUNDS RAISED/DEFENSES

In his petition, Cyprien raises three grounds for relief: (1) that the regulations promulgated by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation are unconstitutional; (2) the "some evidence" standard of review is improper; and (3) the decision of the Board was unsupported by relevant, reliable evidence. Respondent asserts no affirmative defense.*fn3

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" at the time the state court renders its decision or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn4 The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision."*fn5 The holding must also be intended to be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts.*fn6 Thus, where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'"*fn7 When a claim falls under the "unreasonable application" prong, a state court's application of Supreme Court precedent must be objectively unreasonable, not just incorrect or erroneous.*fn8 The Supreme Court has made clear that the objectively unreasonable standard is a substantially higher threshold than simply believing that the state court determination was incorrect.*fn9 "[A]bsent a specific constitutional violation, federal habeas corpus review of trial error is limited to whether the error 'so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due process.'"*fn10 In a federal habeas proceeding, the standard under which this Court must assess the prejudicial impact of constitutional error in a state-court criminal trial is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the outcome.*fn11 Because state court judgments of conviction and sentence carry a presumption of finality and legality, the petitioner has the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she merits habeas relief.*fn12

In applying this standard, this Court reviews the last reasoned decision by the state court,*fn13 which, in this case, is that of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Under AEDPA, the state court's findings of fact are presumed to be correct unless the petitioner rebuts this presumption by clear and convincing evidence.*fn14 This presumption applies to state trial courts and appellate courts alike.*fn15

IV. DISCUSSION

Two arguments raised by the Respondent and Cyprien's second ground may be disposed of quickly. First, that a California prisoner has a liberty interest in parole protected by the procedural safeguards of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is well settled.*fn16

Second, it is equally as well settled that a decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings to deny a prisoner parole must be supported by some evidence in the record.*fn17 Thus, Respondent's arguments on those two points and ...


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