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Deshawn Stallsworth v. D. K. Sisto

March 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James K. Singleton, Jr. United States District Judge


[Re: Motion at Docket No. 22]


At Docket No. 21 this Court entered judgment granting the Petition of Deshawn Stallsworth for Relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and ordered the Board of Parole Hearings to hold a new parole-suitability hearing within 120 days. At Docket No. 22 Respondent timely filed a Motion to Alter Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e).*fn1 Stallsworth has opposed the motion, and Respondent has replied.

This Court may grant relief under Rule 59(e) under limited circumstances: an intervening change of controlling authority; new evidence has surfaced; or the previous disposition was clearly erroneous and, if uncorrected, would work a manifest injustice.*fn2

In his Petition, Stallsworth raises five grounds for relief: (1) the Board's four-year denial of parole violated his plea agreement; (2) the Board impermissibly relied on the nature of the offense; (3) the Board relied upon disciplinary proceedings in violation of the Board's regulations; (4) the Board's insistence upon his becoming a true adherent to the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous violates his right of religious freedom under the First Amendment; and (5) the Board's instruction to upgrade his occupational skills violated the Board's regulations. This Court, relying on the decision of the Ninth Circuit in Hayward v. Marshall,*fn3 entered

Judgment in favor of Stallsworth. Shortly after the Judgment was entered in this case, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Swarthout v. Cooke.*fn4 In Cooke, the Supreme Court effectively overruled the Ninth Circuit authorities relied upon by this Court in rendering its decision. In his motion, Respondent argues that Cooke constitutes an intervening change in controlling authority that effectively forecloses Stallsworth's "some evidence" claim. This Court agrees.

It is well-established by Supreme Court precedent that there is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released on parole before expiration of a sentence.*fn5 That a California prisoner has a liberty interest in parole protected by the procedural safeguards of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is settled.*fn6 Because the only federal right at issue in this case is procedural, the relevant inquiry is whether Stallsworth received due process.*fn7 The Constitution only requires that a prisoner be allowed an opportunity to be heard and to be provided with a statement of the reasons why a parole is denied, nothing more.*fn8 Stallsworth contends that the decision of the Board was unsupported by some evidence as required by California law.*fn9 "[I]t is of no federal concern . . . whether California's 'some evidence' rule of judicial review (a procedure beyond what the Constitution demands) was correctly applied."*fn10 California prisoners are allowed to speak at their parole hearings and to contest the evidence against them, are afforded access to their records in advance, and are notified of the reasons why parole is denied. That is all that due process requires.*fn11 "'Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension.'"*fn12 Stallsworth has failed to establish a wrong of constitutional magnitude. Accordingly, Stallsworth's arguments that he is entitled to habeas relief under his second, third and fifth grounds have been effectively foreclosed by Cooke.

This Court did not address the merits of Stallsworth's first and fourth grounds in its initial decision. In his opposition Stallsworth argues that Cooke does not foreclose those grounds; thus, Stallsworth contends this Court must now rule on the merits of his first and fourth grounds. This Court agrees and now addresses those two grounds on the merits.


This Court recited the background of the case and set forth the standard of review in its initial Memorandum Decision,*fn13 and they are not repeated here.

Evidentiary Hearing

In his Petition, Stallsworth requests an evidentiary hearing on the question of his plea agreement. Stallsworth contends that he has never been provided a copy of the plea agreement, nor has he been provided a copy of the plea colloquy. The record indicates that although Stallsworth requested an evidentiary hearing in his petition to the California Court of Appeal, he did not make a similar request to the San Diego County Superior Court. The California Court of Appeal did not address Stallsworth's request for an evidentiary hearing. Under California procedure, any evidentiary hearing is held in the superior court. If there is no evidentiary hearing in the superior court, the California Court of Appeal independently reviews the decision of the superior court on the record as properly presented to the superior court.*fn14 In this case, Stallsworth failed to request an evidentiary hearing in the San Diego County Superior Court. Under California's procedure, the California Court of Appeal reviewed Stallsworth's petition to that court strictly on the record as presented to the San Diego County Superior Court, without holding an evidentiary hearing. Stallsworth forfeited his right to an evidentiary hearing in the state courts.

Ordinarily, a federal habeas proceeding is decided on the complete state-court record and a federal evidentiary hearing is required only if the trier of fact in the state proceeding has not developed the relevant facts after a full hearing.*fn15 Even in that case, however, AEDPA places severe ...

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