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Alfred King v. Gary Swarthout

February 4, 2011

ALFRED KING, PETITIONER,
v.
GARY SWARTHOUT, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



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

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner claims that his federal constitutional right to due process was violated by a 2009 decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereafter "the Board") denying him a parole date, and that the Board's application of "Marsy's Law" to delay for three years a subsequent parole hearing violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution.*fn1

I. Due Process

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state action that deprives a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. A litigant alleging a due process violation must first demonstrate that he was deprived of a liberty or property interest protected by the Due Process Clause and then show that the procedures attendant upon the deprivation were not constitutionally sufficient. Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 459-60 (1989).

A protected liberty interest may arise from either the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution "by reason of guarantees implicit in the word 'liberty,'" or from "an expectation or interest created by state laws or policies." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005) (citations omitted). The United States Constitution does not, of its own force, create a protected liberty interest in a parole date, even one that has been set. Jago v. Van Curen, 454 U.S. 14, 17-21 (1981); Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979) (There is "no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence."). However, "a state's statutory scheme, if it uses mandatory language, 'creates a presumption that parole release will be granted' when or unless certain designated findings are made, and thereby gives rise to a constitutional liberty interest." Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 12; seealso Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369, 376-78 (1987) (a state's use of mandatory language ("shall") creates a presumption that parole release will be granted when the designated findings are made.).

California's parole statutes give rise to a liberty interest in parole protected by the federal due process clause. Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. ___ (2011), No. 10-333, 2011 WL 197627, at *2 (Jan. 24, 2011). In California, a prisoner is entitled to release on parole unless there is "some evidence" of his or her current dangerousness. In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1205-06, 1210 (2008); In re Rosenkrantz, 29 Cal.4th 616, 651-53 (2002). However, in Swarthout the United States Supreme Court held that "[n]o opinion of [theirs] supports converting California's 'some evidence' rule into a substantive federal requirement." Swarthout, 2011 WL 197627, at *3. In other words, the Court specifically rejected the notion that there can be a valid claim under the Fourteenth Amendment for insufficiency of evidence presented at a parole proceeding. Id. at *3. Rather, the protection afforded by the federal due process clause to California parole decisions consists solely of the "minimal" procedural requirements set forth in Greenholtz, specifically "an opportunity to be heard and . . . a statement of the reasons why parole was denied." Swarthout, at *2-3.

Here, the record reflects that petitioner was present at the October 7, 2009 parole hearing, that he participated in the hearing, and that he was provided with the reasons for the Board's decision to deny parole. (Dkt. No.10-2 at 64-96, Dkt. No. 10-3 at 1-40.) According to the United States Supreme Court, the federal due process clause requires no more.

The court therefore finds that petitioner is not entitled to relief on his due process claim.

II. Marsy's Law

Petitioner contends that the Board's application of the recently enacted "Marsy's Law" (adopted by the voters pursuant to Proposition 9, the "Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy's Law") to delay for three years his next parole hearing, violated the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution. Under the statute as it existed prior to the enactment of "Marsy's Law," indeterminately-sentenced inmates, like petitioner,*fn2 were denied parole for one year unless the Board found, with stated reasons, that it was unreasonable to expect that parole could be granted the following year, in which case the subsequent hearing could be extended up to five years. Cal. Penal Code § 3041.5(b)(2) (2008). However, at his October 2009 parole hearing, petitioner was subject to the terms of the amended statute, which authorizes denial of a subsequent parole hearing for a period up to fifteen years. Cal. Pen. Code, § 3041.5(b)(3) (2010). The shortest interval that the Board may set is three years, applied to petitioner herein (Dkt. No. 10-3 at 32-39), based on a finding that the prisoner "does not require a more lengthy period of incarceration . . . than seven additional years," Cal. Pen. Code, § 3041.5(b)(3)(C).

Petitioner asserts that application of the extended deferral period violates the Ex Post Facto Clause because it significantly increases the risk that petitioner will suffer increased punishment (longer imprisonment) than he would have received under the prior statute, because "it is likely he would be found suitable in one or two years." (Dkt. No. 1, at 25.). Petitioner avers that the Board is now "stripped of the authority to conduct another hearing in one year," that "Proposition 9 eliminates the Board's authority to consider Petitioner for parole annually or even every two years." (Id. at 24, 25.)

The Constitution provides that "No State shall . . . pass any . . . ex post facto Law." U.S. Const. art. I, § 10. A law violates the Ex Post Facto Clause if it: (1) punishes as criminal an act that was not criminal when it was committed; (2) makes a crime's punishment greater than when the crime was committed; or (3) deprives a person of a defense available at the time the crime was committed. Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37, 52 (1990). The Ex Post Facto Clause is also violated if: (1) state regulations have been applied retroactively to a defendant; and (2) the new regulations have created a "sufficient risk" of increasing the punishment attached to the defendant's crimes. Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 854 (9th Cir. 2003). Not every law that disadvantages a defendant is a prohibited ex post facto law. In order to violate the Clause, the law must essentially alter "the definition of criminal conduct" or increase the "punishment for the crime." Lynce v. Mathis, 519 U.S. 433, 441-42 (1997); Souch v. Schaivo, 289 F.3d 616, 620 (9th Cir. 2002).

California Penal Code section 3041.5 has been amended several times since the date of petitioner's conviction to allow for longer periods of time between parole suitability hearings. Ex post facto challenges to those amendments have all been rejected. See e.g. California Department of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 509 (1995) (1981 amendment to Section 3041.5, which increased maximum deferral period of parole suitability hearings to five years did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause because it simply altered the method of setting a parole release date and did not create a meaningful "risk of increasing the measure of punishment attached to the covered crimes"); Watson v. Estelle, 886 F.2d 1093, 1097-98 (9th Cir. 1989) (not a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause to apply Section 3041.5(b)(2)(A) to prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment prior to the 1977 implementation of California's Determinate Sentence Law); Clifton v. Attorney General Of the State of California, 997 F.2d 660, 662 n.1 (9th Cir. 1993) (same); see also Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244, 249 (2000) (upholding Georgia's change in the frequency of parole hearings for prisoners serving life sentences, from three to eight years).

Recently the Ninth Circuit overturned a district court decision granting preliminary injunctive relief to plaintiffs in a class action seeking to prevent the Board from enforcing the amended deferral periods established by Marsy's Law. Gilman v. Schwarzenegger,___F.3d___, 2011 WL 198435 (9th Cir., Jan. 24, 2011). The court found it unlikely that plaintiffs would succeed on the merits of their underlying challenge premised on the Ex ...


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