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Jackson v. Carey

July 12, 2010

DONALD RAY JACKSON, PETITIONER,
v.
TOM CAREY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding through counsel with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In 1985 petitioner was convicted of second degree murder with an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon. Petitioner is serving a sentence of 16 years to life.

In the instant action, petitioner challenges the October 2000 decision by the California Board of Parole Hearings ("BPH") finding him unsuitable for parole. This was petitioner's sixth suitability hearing. This action is proceeding on the amended petition filed by petitioner without counsel on March 30, 2004. (Dkt. No. 10.) Petitioner raises the following claims: 1) two of the commissioners on the 2000 BPH panel had a conflict of interest; 2) insufficient evidence to support the decision finding petitioner unsuitable; 3) the parole authority does not represent a cross-section of the population; 4) the suitability hearing was untimely.

On June 10, 2005, respondent filed an answer. (Dkt. No. 14.) On July 6, 2005, petitioner filed a pro se traverse. (Dkt. No. 16.) On December 21, 2007, petitioner's counsel filed a supplemental brief. (Dkt. No. 59.) After carefully considering the record, the undersigned recommends that the petition be denied.

II. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA")

In Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the Supreme Court defined the operative review standard in a habeas corpus action brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Justice O'Connor's opinion for Section II of the opinion constitutes the majority opinion of the court. There is a dichotomy between "contrary to" clearly established law as enunciated by the Supreme Court, and an "unreasonable application of" that law. Id. at 405. "Contrary to" clearly established law applies to two situations: (1) where the state court legal conclusion is opposite that of the Supreme Court on a point of law; or (2) if the state court case is materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court case, i.e., on point factually, yet the legal result is opposite.

"Unreasonable application" of established law, on the other hand, applies to mixed questions of law and fact, that is the application of law to fact where there are no factually on point Supreme Court cases which mandate the result for the precise factual scenario at issue. Id. at 407-08. It is this prong of the AEDPA standard of review which directs deference be paid to state court decisions. While the deference is not blindly automatic, "the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of law....[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 410-11 (emphasis in original). The habeas corpus petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating the objectively unreasonable nature of the state court decision in light of controlling Supreme Court authority. Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19 (2002).

"Clearly established" law is law that has been "squarely addressed" by the United States Supreme Court. Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120 (2008). Thus, extrapolations of settled law to unique situations will not qualify as clearly established. See e.g., Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76 (2006) (established law not permitting state sponsored practices to inject bias into a criminal proceeding by compelling a defendant to wear prison clothing or by unnecessary showing of uniformed guards does not qualify as clearly established law when spectators' conduct is the alleged cause of bias injection).

The state courts need not have cited to federal authority, or even have indicated awareness of federal authority, in arriving at their decision. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3 (2002). Nevertheless, the state decision cannot be rejected unless the decision itself is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, established Supreme Court authority. Id. An unreasonable error is one in excess of even a reviewing court's perception that "clear error" has occurred. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003). Moreover, the established Supreme Court authority reviewed must be a pronouncement on constitutional principles, or other controlling federal law, as opposed to a pronouncement of statutes or rules binding only on federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. at 9.

However, where the state courts have not addressed the constitutional issue in dispute in any reasoned opinion, the federal court will independently review the record in adjudication of that issue. "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003).

When reviewing a state court's summary denial of a claim, the court "looks through" the summary disposition to the last reasoned decision. Shackleford v. Hubbard, 234 F.3d 1072, 1079 n. 2 (9th Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

A. Insufficient Evidence

In claim two, petitioner alleges that there was insufficient evidence to support the BPH's 2000 decision finding him unsuitable for parole. Respondent argues that this claim is moot because petitioner has had three subsequent parole suitability hearings. Subsequent parole denials do not render this claim moot. First, petitioner is still in custody as a result of the 2000 decision he challenges in this petition. Second, petitioner's claim challenging the denial of parole fall within the "capable of repetition yet evading review" exception to mootness. See Hubbart v. Knapp, 379 F.3d 773, 777 (9th Cir. 2004) (finding that a habeas petition challenging a two-year commitment under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act "evaded review" because the duration of the commitment was too short to be fully litigated prior to its expiration). Accordingly, respondent's argument that this claim is moot is without merit.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits state action that "deprive[s] a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law." U .S. Const. amend. XIV, § 2. A person alleging a due process violation must demonstrate that he or she was deprived of a protected liberty or property interest, and then show that the procedures attendant upon the deprivation were not constitutionally sufficient. Kentucky Dep't. of Corrs. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 459-60 (1989); McQuillion v. Duncan, 306 F.3d 895, 900 (9th Cir. 2002). A protected liberty interest may arise from either the Due Process Clause itself or from state laws. Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369, 373 (1987). In the context of parole, the United States Constitution does not, in and of itself, create a protected liberty interest in the receipt of a parole date, even one that has been set. Jago v. Van Curen, 454 U.S. 14, 17-21 (1981). However, when a state's statutory parole scheme uses mandatory language, it "'creates a presumption that parole release will be granted' when or unless certain designated findings are made, thereby giving rise to a constitutional liberty interest." McQuillion, 306 F.3d at 901 (quoting Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal, 442 U.S. 1, 12 (1979)).

Under California law, prisoners serving indeterminate prison sentences "may serve up to life in prison, but they become eligible for parole consideration after serving minimum terms of confinement." In re Dannenberg, 34 Cal.4th 1061, 1078, 23 Cal.Rptr.3d 417 (2005). Generally, one year prior to an inmate's minimum eligible parole release date, the Board will set a parole release date "in a manner that will provide uniform terms for offenses of similar gravity and magnitude in respect to their threat to the public." In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1202, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169 (citing Cal.Penal Code § 3041(a)). A release date will not be set, however, if the Board determines "that the gravity of the current convicted offense or offenses, or the timing and gravity of current or past convicted offense or offenses, is such that consideration of the public safety requires a more lengthy period of incarceration...." Cal.Penal Code § 3041(b).

California state prisoners who have been sentenced to prison with the possibility of parole have a clearly established, constitutionally protected liberty interest in receipt of a parole release date. Allen, 482 U.S. at 377-78 (quoting Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 12); Irons v. Carey, 505 F.3d 846, 850-51 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Sass v. Cal. Bd. of Prison Terms, 461 F.3d 1123, 1128 (9th Cir. 2006)); Biggs v. Terhune, 334 F.3d 910, 914 (9th Cir. 2003); McQuillion, 306 F.3d at 903.

In the context of parole proceedings, it is well established that inmates are not guaranteed the "full panoply of rights" afforded to criminal defendants under the Due Process Clause. See Pedro v. Or. Parole Bd., 825 F.2d 1396, 1398-99 (9th Cir. 1987). Nonetheless, inmates are afforded limited procedural protections. The Supreme Court has held that a parole board's procedures are constitutionally adequate so long as the inmate is given an opportunity to be heard and a decision informing him of the reasons he did not qualify for parole. Hayward v. Marshall, 603 F.3d 546, 560 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 16). As a matter of state constitutional law, denial of parole to California inmates must be supported by "some evidence" demonstrating future dangerousness. Hayward, 603 F.3d at 562 (citing In re Rosencrantz, 29 Cal.4th 616, 128, 128 Cal.Rptr.2d 104 (2002)); see also In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1191, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169 (2008) (recognizing the denial of parole must be supported by "some evidence" that an inmate "poses a current risk to public safety"); In re Shaputis, 44 Cal.4th 1241, 1254, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 213 (2008) (same). "California's 'some evidence' requirement is a component of the liberty interest created by the parole system of [the] state," Cooke v. Solis, 606 F.3d 1206, 1213 (9th Cir. 2010), and compliance with this evidentiary standard is, therefore, mandated by the federal Due Process Clause. Pearson v. Muntz, 606 F.3d 606, 611 (9th Cir. 2010). Thus, a federal court undertaking review of a "California judicial decision approving the ... decision rejecting parole" must determine whether the state court's decision "was an 'unreasonable application' of the California 'some evidence' requirement, or was 'based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence.'" Hayward, 603 F.3d at 562-63 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2)).

When assessing whether a state parole board's suitability decision was supported by "some evidence," the analysis "is framed by the statutes and regulations governing parole suitability determinations in the relevant state." Irons, 505 F.3d at 851. The court must look to California law to determine what findings are necessary to deem a petitioner unsuitable for parole, and then must review the record to determine whether the state court decision holding that these findings were supported by "some evidence" or whether it constituted an unreasonable application of the "some evidence" principle. Id.

Title 15, Section 2402 of the California Code of Regulations sets forth various factors to be considered by the Board in its parole suitability findings for murderers. The regulation is designed to guide the Board's assessment regarding whether the inmate poses an "unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison," and thus whether he or she is suitable for parole. In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th at 1202, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169. The Board is directed to consider all relevant, reliable information available, including the circumstances of the prisoner's: social history; past and present mental state; past criminal history, including involvement in other criminal misconduct which is reliably documented; the base and other commitment offenses, including behavior before, during and after the crime; any conditions of treatment or control, including the use of special conditions under which the prisoner may safely be released to the community; and any other information which bears on the prisoner's suitability for release. 15 Cal.Code Regs. § 2402(b).

The regulation also lists several specific circumstances which tend to show suitability or unsuitability for parole. 15 Cal.Code Regs. § 2402(c)-(d). The overriding concern is public safety, In re Dannenberg, 34 Cal.4th 1061, 1086, 23 Cal.Rptr.3d 417 (2005), and the focus is on the inmate's current dangerousness. In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th at 1205, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169. Thus, under California law, the standard of review is not whether some evidence supports the reasons cited for denying parole, but whether some evidence indicates that a parolee's release would unreasonably endanger public safety. In re Shaputis, 44 Cal.4th 1241, 1254, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 213 (2008). Therefore, "the circumstances of the commitment offense (or any of the other factors related to unsuitability) establish unsuitability if, and only if, those circumstances are probative to the determination that a prisoner remains a danger to the public." In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th at 1212, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169. In other words, there must be some rational nexus between the facts relied upon and the ultimate conclusion that the prisoner continues to be a threat to public safety. Id. at 1227, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169.

The BPH found petitioner unsuitable for parole in 2000 for the following reasons. First, the BPH stated that the "number one" reason for finding petitioner unsuitable was the gravity of the offense which it characterized as an "extended brutal and violent attack on the victim..." (Dkt. No. 14-5, p. 47.) The BPH also found that petitioner did not have adequate parole plans. (Id., p. 48.) The BPH further found that petitioner needed additional therapy to deal with the causative factors of the offense. (Id., p. 49.) In order to determine whether these findings were supported by "some evidence," the undersigned will summarize the testimony and evidence from the 200 suitability hearing.*fn1

At the beginning of the 2000 hearing, the BPH described petitioner's crime: At 11:45 p.m. on October 24, 1984, Elizabeth Wilson, a resident of 2100 East 99th Place in the Jordan Downs Housing Project of Los Angeles was awakened by shouting outside of the residence. She heard Ray Brown, whom she had know[n] for five years, repeated[ly] yelling, in quote, I'm not going, unquote. She got up from her bed, went downstairs and looked outside. She saw appellant -- in this case, Mr. Jackson, and Brown, fist fighting but did not see that either man had a weapon. Wilson went upstairs to get her robe and returned to the front door about three minutes later. She observed Brown laying on the ground. Jackson was bending over him, cutting his face. She did not see a knife in Jackson's hand. Wilson said, don't do that, don't do that. Jackson looked at her and moved away from Brown. He pointed a finger at her and said, move that car, in an apparent reference to Brown's car. Brown lay motionless on the ground. Wilson returned to her residence to get her door key and then went to Betsy House's home. She asked Mrs. House, the mother of Jackson's girlfriend, to stop the fight. Mrs. House sent her son Curtis to walk back to the fight scene with Wilson. Wilson testified that Jackson was still cutting and kicking Brown when she and Curtis House reached the scene of the fight. Curtis asked Jackson, can't you see you're killing the man? Jackson stood up and responded quote, he deserved to die, unquote. He ...


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