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Navarro v. Ayers

August 25, 2010

LIONEL NAVARRO, PETITIONER,
v.
ROBERT AYERS, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding with appointed counsel, brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the denial of parole in June 2005. Pursuant to the written consent of all parties, this case is before the undersigned as the presiding judge for all purposes, including entry of final judgment. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Pending before the court are petitioner's pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus (Doc. 1), respondents' answer (Doc. 15), petitioner's supplemental brief filed by appointed counsel (Doc. 24), respondents' supplemental brief (Doc. 26), petitioner's traverse filed by appointed counsel (Doc. 28), petitioner's request for judicial notice (Doc. 29), petitioner's second supplemental brief filed by appointed counsel (Doc. 31), and respondents' request for a stay of proceedings (Doc. 32).

I. BACKGROUND

Petitioner is serving a life sentence following his conviction for first degree murder. Petitioner appeared before the Board of Prison Terms ("Board") for a subsequent parole eligibility hearing in June 2005. Petitioner was represented by counsel at the hearing. In denying parole, the Board relied on the following: (1) the facts of the commitment offense; (2) an escalating pattern of criminal conduct; and (3) the need for further self-help programming. As to self-help programming, the Board stated:

. . . The prisoner needs therapy, programming, and self-help in order to face, discuss, understand, and cope with the stress in a nondestructive manner as well as to go further into the commitment crime to get further insight into the commitment crime. . . . Primarily the area of unsuitability that brings us to the forefront is this whole area of your AA and NA. And though you've -- there's no question you've attended them, but amazingly you don't participate in it. You just sit in back and like you way you never got past the, number one on, on it. You do need to participate in it. This crime was drug based and you need to show the Panel at some point in time if you want to, ever want to get released that not only that you made up the reasons to get out of that drug lifestyle, but that you have a way of community, whatever you want to call it, to fall back on in case your willpower falters. That's the whole point of AA and NA is to be able to, to have help when necessary. I perfectly believe that you think that you don't need it. That once you way you're not going to do something, you're not gonna do it. But a lot of people feel that way and they end up falling back. And that's the reason why NA and AA is so popular because you've got to have that net to kind of help you ought to keep you from (indiscernible) and because of your track record. . . .

The Board deferred further consideration for parole eligibility for two years.

Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in the Tulare County Superior Court challenging the Board's decision. In denying relief, the state court concluded that the Board did not rely solely on immutable factors and that the Board's reliance on petitioner's failure to participate meaningfully in self-help programming constituted "some evidence" to justify the denial of parole. The California Court of Appeal and California Supreme Court summarily denied relief. Respondents concede the petition is timely and that the claims are exhausted.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

Because this action was filed after April 26, 1996, the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") are presumptively applicable. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997); Calderon v. United States Dist. Ct. (Beeler), 128 F.3d 1283, 1287 (9th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1099 (1998). The AEDPA does not, however, apply in all circumstances. When it is clear that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, because it was not raised in state court or because the court denied it on procedural grounds, the AEDPA deference scheme does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. See Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that the AEDPA did not apply where Washington Supreme Court refused to reach petitioner's claim under its "re-litigation rule"); see also Killian v. Poole, 282 F.3d 1204, 1208 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that, where state court denied petitioner an evidentiary hearing on perjury claim, AEDPA did not apply because evidence of the perjury was adduced only at the evidentiary hearing in federal court); Appel v. Horn, 250 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.2001) (reviewing petition de novo where state court had issued a ruling on the merits of a related claim, but not the claim alleged by petitioner). When the state court does not reach the merits of a claim, "concerns about comity and federalism . . . do not exist." Pirtle, 313 F. 3d at 1167.

Where AEDPA is applicable, federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) is not available for any claim decided on the merits in state court proceedings 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.

Under § 2254(d)(1), federal habeas relief is available only where the state court's decision is "contrary to" or represents an "unreasonable application of" clearly established law. Under both standards, "clearly established law" means those holdings of the United States Supreme Court as of the time of the relevant state court decision. See Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 412) . "What matters are the holdings of the Supreme Court, not the holdings of lower federal courts." Plumlee v. Masto, 512 F.3d 1204 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc). Supreme Court precedent is not clearly established law, and therefore federal habeas relief is unavailable, unless it "squarely addresses" an issue. See Moses v. Payne, 555 F.3d 742, 753-54 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 28 S.Ct. 743, 746 (2008)). For federal law to be clearly established, the Supreme Court must provide a "categorical answer" to the question before the state court. See id.; see also Carey, 549 U.S. at 76-77 (holding that a state court's decision that a defendant was not prejudiced by spectators' conduct at trial was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, the Supreme Court's test for determining prejudice created by state conduct at trial because the Court had never applied the test to spectators' conduct). Circuit court precedent may not be used to fill open questions in the Supreme Court's holdings. See Carey, 549 U.S. at 74.

In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000) (O'Connor, J., concurring, garnering a majority of the Court), the United States Supreme Court explained these different standards. A state court decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent if it is opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on the same question of law, or if the state court decides the case differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. See id. at 405. A state court decision is also "contrary to" established law if it applies a rule which contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court cases. See id. In sum, the petitioner must demonstrate that Supreme Court precedent requires a contrary outcome because the state court applied the wrong legal rules. Thus, a state court decision applying the correct legal rule from Supreme Court cases to the facts of a particular case is not reviewed under the "contrary to" standard. See id. at 406. If a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established law, it is reviewed to determine first whether it resulted in constitutional error. See Benn v. Lambert, 283 F.3d 1040, 1052 n.6 (9th Cir. 2002). If so, the next question is whether such error was structural, in which case federal habeas relief is warranted. See id. If the error was not structural, the final question is whether the error had a substantial and injurious effect on the verdict, or was harmless. See id.

State court decisions are reviewed under the far more deferential "unreasonable application of" standard where it identifies the correct legal rule from Supreme Court cases, but unreasonably applies the rule to the facts of a particular case. See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). While declining to rule on the issue, the Supreme Court in Williams, suggested that federal habeas relief may be available under this standard where the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle to a new context where it should not apply, or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 408-09. The Supreme Court has, however, made it clear that a state court decision is not an "unreasonable application of" controlling law simply because it is an erroneous or incorrect application of federal law. See id. at 410; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003). An "unreasonable application of" controlling law cannot necessarily be found even where the federal habeas court concludes that the state court decision is clearly erroneous. See Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75-76. This is because "[t]he gloss of clear error fails to give proper deference to state courts by conflating error (even clear error) with unreasonableness." Id. at 75. As with state court decisions which are "contrary to" established federal law, where a state court decision is an "unreasonable application of" controlling law, federal habeas relief is nonetheless unavailable if the error was non-structural and harmless. See Benn, 283 F.3d at 1052 n.6.

III. DISCUSSION

Petitioner argues that California's parole statute is unconstitutionally vague with respect to the commitment offense and previous record. Petitioner also argues that the Board's decision was not based on "some evidence" of his dangerousness at the time of the eligibility hearing in 2005. Respondents argue: (1) petitioner does not have a federally protected liberty interest in parole; (2) petitioner received all the process he was due because he was provided notice of the hearing and an opportunity to be heard; (3) even if the "some evidence" standard applies, the factors cited by the state court meet this standard.

In Hayward v. Marshall, 603 F.3d 546 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc), the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc held that there is no federal stand-alone substantive due process right to parole. See 603 F.3d 546, 555 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc). Any substantive due process interest in parole arises solely from state law creating the right. See id. The Ninth Circuit overruled its prior decisions in Biggs v. Terhune, 334 F.3d 910, 915 (9th Cir. 2003), Sass v. Bd. of Prison Terms, 461 F.3d 1123 (9th Cir. 2006), and Irons v. Carey, 505 F.3946, 851 (9th Cir. 2007), "[t]o the extent [they]. . . might be read ...


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