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Sargent v. Clay

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


August 5, 2010

JEFFREY S. SARGENT,
v.
I.D. CLAY, WARDEN

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable N. Randy Smith Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge

ORDER

The Petitioner's Federal Habeas Corpus petition now comes before the court for decision. The court dismisses Petitioner's habeas petition.

BACKGROUND

Because the parties are familiar with the factual background of this case, the court highlights here only the events giving rise to the current federal action. Petitioner was convicted in 1978 for first degree murder committed during a burglary and robbery. Petitioner pleaded guilty in exchange for a plea bargain. He has been in prison ever since. He has been denied parole a number of times and now challenges the California Board of Parole's ("CBP") most recent denial of his parole in 2005, alleging a number of constitutional errors. Petitioner brought his claims to the California Superior Court, which denied his petition in a reasoned opinion. Petitioner then appealed that decision to both the California Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court. The State concedes that Petitioner's claims have all been properly exhausted. On February 20, 2007, Petitioner filed a writ of habeas corpus with this court. Having received the State's Answer and Petitioner's Traverse, the court now decides this matter.

I. HABEAS PETITION

In his habeas petition, Petitioner alleged four grounds: (1) the CBP denied Petitioner parole on June 27, 2005 which violated the terms and conditions of Petitioner's plea bargain; (2) the CBP has failed to establish regulatory procedures for determining when to defer subsequent parole consideration hearings for more than a year; (3) the CBP's policy of using mechanical restraints on inmates at parole consideration hearings violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (4) the CBP's failure to set a term under its sentencing matrix at his 2005 hearing violated both the Eighth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn1 Each argument fails, and the court dismisses Petitioner's habeas petition without prejudice.

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).

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), an application for habeas corpus will not be granted unless the adjudication of the claim "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 "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). "[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." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75--76 (2003) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000)). "Rather, that application must be objectively unreasonable." Id. at 76.

Moreover, Habeas Rule 4 requires the Court to make a preliminary review of each petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court must dismiss a petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition . . . that the petitioner is not entitled to relief." Rule 4 of the Rules Governing 2254 Cases.

For purposes of AEDPA review, this Court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803--04 (1991). The Superior Court's decision constitutes the last reasoned state court decision in this case, as both the Court of Appeal and the California Supreme Court summarily dismissed Petitioner's habeas petition. Hunter v. Aispuro, 982 F.2d 344, 347 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, the Court must determine whether the Superior Court's denial of Petitioner's habeas petition "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 "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).

A. Whether the CBP's Fnding

Petitioner unsuitable for parole warrants habeas relief Petitioner argues that the CBP's failure to find him suitable for parole in 2005 violated the terms of his plea bargain agreement. This argument fails. As the Superior Court noted, "Petitioner has presented no evidence of a plea agreement that he would be found suitable for parole at any specific time." Petitioner's Petition Exh. A. Moreover, it appears that Petitioner's plea bargain has been honored. In declaring that he had no choice but to ensure that Petitioner spent the rest of his life in prison, the sentencing judge noted that, though Petitioner deserved the death penalty as a result of his crime, "[Petitioner] escaped this fate by an agreement with the District Attorney that the allegations of special circumstances would be stricken if the defendant pleaded guilty to first degree murder." Petitioner's Answer Exh. 4. In fact, the sentencing judge made special note to assure that "defendant will be confined in State prison for the rest of his life." Id.*fn2 Thus, the state court's decision denying habeas relief on this basis was neither "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Nor was it an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).*fn3

B. Whether the CBP has failed to establish regulatory procedures for determining when to defer subsequent parole consideration hearings for more than a year

Relying on California Penal Code section 3041.5, Petitioner argues that the parole board failed to schedule regular hearings to determine suitability for parole. Whether the CBP did this or not is entirely a matter of state law outside the jurisdiction of a federal habeas court. Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67--68 ("[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to re-examine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). The court, therefore, denies relief on this basis.

C.Whether the CBP's policy of using mechanical restraints on inmates at parole consideration hearings violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

Petitioner challenges the CBP's use of mechanical restraints on inmates at the parole hearing, alleging specifically that this was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This argument fails for two reasons.

First, it is not clear on what basis Petitioner invokes the Equal Protection Clause. He has not alleged that he is in some sort of suspect class or that other similarly situated individuals are treated differently (indeed, he admits that, under the CBP's policy, all inmates are put in mechanical restraints).

Second, though there is a constitutional right to be free from shackles during the guilt phase of a trial, Deck v. Missouri, 544 U.S. 622 (2005), Petitioner does not cite, nor can we find, any case law establishing a right to be free from such restraints during a parole hearing.

Because there is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent establishing a right to be free from restraints during a parole hearing and because there is certainly no right to be free from that under the Equal Protection Clause, the Superior Court's adjudication of this issue was not "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

D. Whether the CBP's failure to set a term under its sentencing matrix at his 2005 hearing violated either the Eighth Amendment or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

Finally, Petitioner argues that the CBP's failure to set a term under its sentencing matrix resulted in his receiving a "maximum sentence which is a disproportionate sentence." Thus, Petitioner claims that this failure to set a term was a violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. This claim is entirely without merit. There is nothing disproportionate about sentencing a defendant to life in prison for murder. See United States v. LaFleur, 971 F.2d 200, 211 (9th Cir. 1991) ("[I]t is clear that a mandatory life sentence for murder does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.").

Petitioner's argument that the CBP's failure to set a term violated the Equal Protection Clause is equally without merit. Indeed, Petitioner fails to make an argument as to how the CBP's actions even amounted to a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. James v. Borg, 24 F.3d 20, 26 (9th Cir. 1994) ("Conclusory allegations which are not supported by a statement of specific facts do not warrant habeas relief.") (citing Boehme v. Maxwell, 423 F.2d 1056, 1058 (9th Cir. 1970)).

Thus, the state court's decision denying habeas relief on this basis was neither "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Nor was it an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).*fn4

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

Petitioner's habeas petition is dismissed on all grounds without prejudice.


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