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Oscar Columbus Ward v. Dennis Kris Sisto

March 23, 2011

OSCAR COLUMBUS WARD, PETITIONER,
v.
DENNIS KRIS SISTO, 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. He challenges the decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter "Board") to deny him parole at a parole consideration hearing held on November 6, 2007.

Petitioner argues, among other things, that the Board's 2007 decision finding him unsuitable for parole violates 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 on petitioner's due process claims.

I. Procedural Background

Petitioner is confined pursuant to a 1971 judgment of conviction entered against him in the Los Angeles County Superior Court following his conviction on charges of first degree murder and second degree burglary. Pet. at 1.*fn1 Pursuant to that conviction, petitioner was sentenced to seven years to life in prison. Id.

The parole consideration hearing that is placed at issue by the instant petition was held on November 6, 2007. Id. at 101. Petitioner appeared at and participated in the hearing. Id. at 103-177. Following deliberations held at the conclusion of the hearing, the Board panel announced their decision to deny petitioner parole for three years and the reasons for that decision. Id. at 178-187.

Petitioner challenged the Board's 2007 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. Answer, Ex. 1. The Superior Court denied that petition in a decision on the merits of petitioner's claims. Id., Ex. 2. Petitioner subsequently challenged the Board's 2007 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the California Court of Appeal. Id., Ex. 3. That petition was also denied in a reasoned decision. 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

An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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 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 different result. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 7 (2002) (citing 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) (internal citations omitted) (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.'"). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011).

III. Petitioner's Claims

In his first ground for relief, petitioner claims that he: was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole (murder first CC WPT) his sentence had/has been extended to life without the possibility of parole and or death sentence under 37 years and 6 months served to date and CDCR officials and their Community Release Board, Board of Prison Terms officials and Board of Parole Hearings officials failed to afford prisoner a serious offender hearing under ISL and DSL to fix his term is clearly concrete prejudice, illegal, unlawful, overtime incarceration and cruel and unusual punishment to defer parole for three years."

Pet. at 5, 13. In his second ground for relief, petitioner claims that:

The Community Release Board and the Board of Prison Terms and the Board of Parole Hearings has and continue to restate manipulate transform and convert the instant term of 7 years MEPD to life without the possibility of parole by using the crime under inapplicable unsuitable criteria under special aggravating circumstances elements ...


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