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Rodney Alton Bryant v. John W. Haviland

February 4, 2011




Petitioner, Rodney Alton Bryant, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is currently serving an indeterminate sentence of fifteen years to life following his 1990 guilty plea in Sacramento County Superior Court to second degree murder. Here, Petitioner does not challenge the constitutionality of that conviction, but rather, the execution of his sentence, and specifically, the April 9, 2009 decision by the Board of Parole Hearings finding him unsuitable for parole.


Petitioner alleges two grounds for relief in his pending petition. Specifically, Petitioner's claims are as follows:

(1) The Board's three year denial of parole based on the 1 application of Marsy's Law violated Petitioner's rights under the ex post facto, due process, and equal protection clauses, and subjects Petitioner to cruel and unusual punishment.

(2) The Board denied Petitioner's right to due process of law by requiring him to discuss the commitment offense in order to obtain a parole release date.

After careful consideration of the record and applicable law, it is recommended that this petition for writ of habeas corpus relief be denied.


The basic facts of Petitioner's life crime were summarized by the Presiding Commissioner at Petitioner's parole hearing as follows:

On August 12th, 1990, Rodney Bryant . . . went fishing with his brother, Sean Bryant, Antonio Tavares . . . and Tavares' daughter and and Bryant's girlfriend's eight-year old son . . . . The victim cruised by the fishing party in his motorized rubber boat and snagged a fishing pole, pulling it into the river. When the victim came back, Tavares fired a shotgun round into the air to stop the victim. The victim started to leave when Tavares fired another shotgun round. Rodney Bryant fired at least one rifle shot. Police investigation conclude[d] the victim was hit in the back by a .22 caliber cartridge fired by Bryant. After the victim called out for help, the fishing party gathered their equipment and left the scene. A fisherman observed the victim's boat going in circles in the middle of the slough. The property caretaker and another individual eventually pulled the partially deflated boat to the shore. The victim was found dead when the officers arrived. Tavares was arrested at his residence after an incomplete 911 call was traced to his home. Bryant was taken into custody August 13th, 1990.

The prisoner's version: Bryant states they brought the guns with them because they had seen snakes in the area. The victim had snagged Tavares' pole. Tavares wanted to go after the victim with a shotgun but Bryant told him the slough was a dead end and he would have to return. When the victim returned, Tavares fired a shotgun into the air. Bryant stated he fired a rifle into the water, however, his view of the victim was obstructed by bushes along the bank. Upon hearing the victim's cry for help, Bryant suggested they go to the caretaker's house and look for help. Tavares refused, ordering the others to pack up. Bryant drove Tavares' truck to Tavares' house. Bryant admits culpability and is remorseful. He feels he was not allowed a fair deal due to the witnesses' stories. He stated the witnesses had not been truthful with the investigators. He pled guilty to second degree murder on advice of his lawyer. (Pet. at 54-56.) Petitioner was sentenced to fifteen years to life in prison, and his minimum eligible parole date passed on February 21, 2001. On April 9, 2009, Petitioner appeared before the Board of Parole Hearings (the "Board") for his third subsequent parole consideration hearing. After considering various positive and negative suitability factors, the panel concluded that Petitioner would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released, and concluded that he was not suitable for parole. Petitioner sought habeas corpus relief from the Board's determination in the Sacramento County Superior Court. On August 24, 2009, the court denied his petition in a reasoned decision, finding that both of Petitioner's claims were without merit. The California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, and the California Supreme Court denied relief without comment. Petitioner filed this federal petition for writ of habeas corpus on December 15, 2009. Respondent filed an answer on March 12, 2010, and Petitioner filed his traverse on March 30, 2010.


This case is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), which applies to all petitions for writ of habeas corpus filed after its enactment on April 24, 1996. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326 (1997); Jeffries v. Wood, 114F.3d 1484, 1499 (9th Cir. 1997). Under AEDPA, an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court may be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n. 7 (2000). Federal habeas corpus relief 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 ...

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