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Michael D. Foote v. Matthew Cate

February 14, 2011

MICHAEL D. FOOTE, PETITIONER,
v.
MATTHEW CATE, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding in propria persona with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges the decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter "Board") to deny him parole at a parole consideration hearing held on October 6, 2008. He claims that the Board's decision finding him unsuitable for parole violated his right to due process.

As discussed below, the United States Supreme Court has held that the only inquiry on federal habeas review of a denial of parole is whether the petitioner has received "fair procedures" for vindication of the liberty interest in parole given by the state. Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. ___, No. 10-333, 2011 WL 197627, at *2 (Jan. 24, 2011) (per curiam). In the context of a California parole suitability hearing, a petitioner receives adequate process when he/she is allowed an opportunity to be heard and a statement of the reasons why parole was denied. Id. at **2-3 (federal due process satisfied where petitioners were "allowed to speak at their parole hearings and to contest the evidence against them, were afforded access to their records in advance, and were notified as to the reasons why parole was denied"); see also Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal, 442 U.S. 1, 16 (1979). For the reasons that follow, applying this standard here requires that the petition for writ of habeas corpus be denied.

I. Procedural Background

Petitioner is confined pursuant to a 1979 judgment of conviction entered against him in the Fresno County Superior Court following his conviction on a charge of first degree murder. Pet. at 14; Answer at 2.*fn1 Pursuant to that conviction, petitioner was sentenced to seven years to life in state prison. Pet. at 14.

The parole consideration hearing that is placed at issue by the instant petition was held on October 6, 2008. Dckt. 1-1, at 28. Petitioner appeared at and participated in the hearing. Id. at 30-135. Following deliberations held at the conclusion of the hearing, the Board panel announced their decision to deny petitioner parole for one year and the reasons for that decision. Id. at 136-44.

Petitioner challenged the Board's 2008 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Fresno County Superior Court. Answer, Ex. 1 The Superior Court denied that petition in a reasoned decision. Id., Ex. 2. Petitioner subsequently challenged the Board's 2008 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the California Court of Appeal. Id., Ex. 3. The Court of Appeal denied that petition with a citation to In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181 (2008) and In re Shaputis, 44 Cal.4th 1241 (2008). Id., Ex. 4. Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. Id., Ex. 5. That petition was summarily denied. Id., Ex. 6.

II. Standards for a Writ of Habeas Corpus

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 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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under section 2254(d)(1), a state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established United States Supreme Court precedents "if it 'applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases', or if it 'confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision'" of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000)).

Under the "unreasonable application" clause of section 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case. Williams, 529 U.S. at 413. 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 412; see also Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003) (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a 'firm conviction' that the state court was 'erroneous.'")

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Avila v. Galaza, 297 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 2002). See also Barker v. Fleming, 423 F.3d 1085, 1091 (9th Cir. 2005) ("When more than one state court has adjudicated a claim, we analyze the last reasoned decision"). Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to ...


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