IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
March 30, 2011
DESHAWN STALLSWORTH, PETITIONER,
D. K. SISTO, WARDEN, CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON, SOLANO, RESPONDENT.
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.
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 restrictions on holding evidentiary hearings in federal habeas proceedings.
If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant shows that-
(A) the claim relies on-
(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable; or
(ii) a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through the exercise of due diligence; and
(B) the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.*fn16
Stallsworth does not satisfy this standard. Accordingly, Stallsworth's request for an evidentiary hearing is denied.
To the extent that Stallsworth's request is appropriately deemed a
request for discovery or to expand the record,*fn17 it
is also denied. Discovery or expansion of the record in habeas cases
is normally made in conjunction with evidentiary hearings.*fn18
Stallsworth is not entitled to either discovery or an
expansion of the record for the same reason that he is not entitled to
an evidentiary hearing, i.e., Stallsworth failed to properly develop
the record in the state courts.
Ground 1: Violation of Plea Agreement
Following the entry of a guilty plea in December 1989, Stallsworth was convicted in the San Diego County Superior Court of first-degree murder (Cal. Penal Code, § 187).*fn19 Stallsworth was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of 25 years to life. Stallsworth contends that by denying parole for a period of four years, the Board violated his plea agreement. Stallsworth raised this argument in his petition to the San Diego Superior Court and in his petition to the California Court of Appeal. In rejecting Stallsworth's argument, the California Court of Appeal found: "Stallsworth has no support for his claim he has a contractual right to parole."*fn20 In rejecting Stallsworth's argument, the San Diego County Superior Court held:
[Stallsworth] argues he was deprived of his constitutionally protected liberty interest in parole because the Board's decision violated the terms of his plea agreement. However, [Stallsworth] makes no showing of how the denial of parole violates the terms of his plea agreement beyond concluding that it amounts to a re-trial on the offense. In making this argument [Stallsworth] seems confused about the nature of the parole hearing. It is not an adjudicative procedure and does not affect the terms of his original sentence. The record of the hearing reflects [Stallsworth] should be aware of this fact as the presiding commissioner stated: ". . . this hearing is about suitability . . . We are not retrying your case. We presume you are guilty. We accept the findings of the court." (Petition Exhibit "A" at 6:11-15.) Additionally, [Stallsworth] has not attached a copy of his plea agreement from which this court could gauge the propriety of [Stallsworth's] argument.*fn21
That a plea agreement is a contract that must be honored by the state
is well settled.*fn22 In
this case, however, Stallsworth reads his "contract" too broadly. The
proper interpretation and effect of the agreement between the State of
California and Stallsworth in this case is a matter governed by
California contract law.*fn23 What Stallsworth
received in exchange for his guilty plea was a sentence of 25 years to
life, with a possibility of parole at some point after he had served
his minimum term. Under California law, there is no guarantee of
parole after a specified period of time, only a possibility that a
prisoner will be considered for parole and granted parole only if, in
the exercise of the discretion of the Board applying factors specified
by regulations, he or she is found to be suitable for
parole.*fn24 "A plea agreement violation claim depends
upon the actual terms of the agreement, not the subjective
understanding of the defendant . . . ."*fn25 As was
the case before the California courts, the plea colloquy is not
included in the record before this Court. Consequently, as was the
case before the California courts, this Court cannot determine the
merits of Stallsworth's arguments. Stallsworth has the burden of
establishing his entitlement to habeas relief. Stallsworth has failed
to carry that burden. Based upon the record before it, this Court
cannot say that the decision of either California court upholding the
Board's denial of parole did not breach Stallsworth's plea agreement was "contrary to,
or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States"
or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light
of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn26
Stallsworth is not entitled to relief under his first
Ground 4: First Amendment
Relying on Inouye v. Kemna,*fn27 Stallsworth argues that insisting that he become an adherent of Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") and a true believer as a condition of parole was a coercive imposition of religious beliefs that violated his First Amendment right. In rejecting Stallsworth's arguments, the San Diego County Superior Court held:
[. . . .] The Board also noted that [Stallsworth] was abusing substances at the time of his offense and recommended he engage in therapy and recovery. Specifically, the Board recommended that [Stallsworth] become involved in AA and stated the Board must be convinced AA is truly a part of [Stallsworth's] life, that he understands it. [Stallsworth] attempts to argue that this admonition by the Board infringes on his first amendment right to religious freedom. However, the Board goes on to state that part of AA is making amends; making oneself and one's community better. The Board also suggests there are victim groups [Stallsworth] can become involved with and other opportunities to gain greater insight. It does not appear from the record that the Board is suggesting [Stallsworth] become a true believer in a religious sense, but rather a philosophical sense, to the teachings of AA. And only in the context of his overall rehabilitation and for the benefit of coming to terms with his crime and circumstances that lead to [Stallsworth's] incarceration. The Board does not say that [Stallsworth] should abandon his own religious beliefs, whatever they may be, in fact the Board does not mention religion at all. [Stallsworth] imputes a religious mandate to the Board's suggestion he become a true believer in AA, but the record does not support that conclusion. Additionally, the record reflects that [Stallsworth] has been involved in AA in the past, thus his objection to the Board's advice is not only misplaced, but also suspect.*fn28
While Inouye appears to lend support to Stallsworth's argument, it
does not compel the result Stallsworth seeks. First, Inouye is a
decision of the Court of Appeals, not the Supreme Court. Thus, except
to the extent that it may be persuasive in determining what law was
clearly established by the Supreme Court and whether the state court
applied that law unreasonably, Inouye is inapposite.*fn29
Second, Inouye involved the question of qualified immunity in
a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a parolee
whose parole was revoked-not a § 2254 federal habeas corpus action.
While, like a § 2254 habeas case, the controlling issue in determining
qualified immunity in a § 1983 civil rights action is whether the law
is "clearly established," there is a fundamental difference in how the
term "clearly established law" is determined. In determining the
question of "clearly established law" in a § 1983 civil rights case, a
federal court is not restricted to decisions of the Supreme Court, but
may look to decisions of the Courts of Appeal.*fn30 On
the other hand, in a federal habeas proceeding the law must have been
"clearly established" by the Supreme Court.*fn31
Suffice it to say that no controlling decision
of the Supreme Court, or the Ninth Circuit, supports Stallsworth's
position in the context of a
proceeding brought under § 2254.
This Court also notes that, even if Stallsworth were correct in his legal position, i.e., that compelling him to attend AA would violate his First Amendment religious freedom right, his claim fails on the facts. In addition to the fact that, as the San Diego County Superior Court noted, Stallsworth offer his attendance at AA to show he is suitable for parole, but Stallsworth also did not terminate his prior participation in the AA program on religious grounds. When questioned by the Board about his five-year gap in attendance at AA, Stallsworth responded: "I stopped going on my own accord. I got tired of the group as far as too much noise, people not taking it seriously, whatever the case may have been, which may led to me just stopping."*fn32
Based upon the record before it, this Court cannot say that the decision of either California court holding the Board's denial of parole did not violate Stallsworth's First Amendment freedom of religion right was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding."*fn33 Stallsworth is not entitled to relief under his fourth ground.
III. CONCLUSION and ORDER
Stallsworth is not entitled to relief on any ground raised in his Petition.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED THAT the Motion to Alter Judgment at Docket No. 22 is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the request for an evidentiary hearing is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Judgment entered at Docket No. 21 is hereby VACATED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Court declines to issue a Certificate of Appealability.*fn34 Any further request for a Certificate of Appealability must be addressed to the Court of Appeals.*fn35
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
James K. Singleton, Jr.