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Kenneth P. Desilva v. K. Allison

April 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The matter has been referred to the Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rules 302 and 304. Pending before the Court is the petition, which was filed on February 17,2011.

I. Screening the Petition

Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (Habeas Rules) requires the Court to make a preliminary review of each petition for writ of habeas corpus.

The Court must summarily dismiss a petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court...." Habeas Rule 4; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490 (9th Cir. 1990). Habeas Rule 2(c) requires that a petition 1) specify all grounds of relief available to the Petitioner; 2) state the facts supporting each ground; and 3) state the relief requested. Notice pleading is not sufficient; rather, the petition must state facts that point to a real possibility of constitutional error. Rule 4, Advisory Committee Notes, 1976 Adoption; O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d at 420 (quoting Blackledge v. Allison, 431 U.S. 63, 75 n. 7 (1977)). Allegations in a petition that are vague, conclusory, or palpably incredible are subject to summary dismissal. Hendricks v. Vasquez, 908 F.2d 490, 491 (9th Cir. 1990).

Further, the Court may dismiss a petition for writ of habeas corpus either on its own motion under Habeas Rule 4, pursuant to the respondent's motion to dismiss, or after an answer to the petition has been filed. Advisory Committee Notes to Habeas Rule 8, 1976 Adoption; see, Herbst v. Cook, 260 F.3d 1039, 1042-43 (9th Cir. 2001).

Petitioner is an inmate of the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (CSATF) at Corcoran, California, serving a sentence of fifteen years to life imposed by the Monterey County Superior Court in 1993 pursuant to Petitioner's conviction of second degree murder with the use of a firearm. (Pet. 1.) Petitioner challenges the decision of California's Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) made after a hearing held on October 26, 2009, in which Petitioner was found unsuitable for parole for a period of three years. (Pet 6-7, 35, 106-23.) Petitioner raises the following claims: 1) use of "Marcy's Law" to impose a three-year period of denial constitutes an ex post facto law because it increased Petitioner's maximum release date by over two and one-half years; 2) denial of parole for three years constituted double jeopardy because Petitioner was in effect re-sentenced with a more distant release date than had been calculated earlier; and 3) the denial of parole was not supported by any evidence indicating that Petitioner presented or presents an unreasonable risk of danger to the public safety in view of Petitioner's record, rehabilitation, vocational attributes, and low potential for future violence. (Pet. 6-8.)

I. Failure to State a Cognizable Ex Post Facto Claim Because the petition was filed after April 24, 1996, the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), the AEDPA applies in this proceeding. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 327 (1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1008 (1997); Furman v. Wood, 190 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 1999).

A district court may entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court only on the ground that the custody is in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2254(a), 2241(c)(3); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 375 n.7 (2000); Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. --, -, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (2010) (percuriam).

Petitioner alleges that his parole was denied for three years based on the application of "Marcy's Law" (pet. 7). The Court understands this to be a reference to California's Proposition 9, the "Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy's Law," which on November 4, 2008, effected an amendment of Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(3) that resulted in a lengthening of the period between parole suitability hearings.

Before Proposition 9 was enacted, Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(2) provided that the suitability hearings would generally occur every year, but could occur every two years in cases in which the board found that it was not reasonable to expect parole would be granted in a year and stated the bases for the finding, or every five years if the prisoner had been convicted of murder and the board found that it was not reasonable to expect parole to be granted during the following years and stated the bases for the finding in writing. Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(2) (2008); Gilman v. Schwarzenegger, - F.3d -, No. 10-15471, 2011 WL 198435, at *2 (9th Cir. Jan. 24, 2011). Proposition 9 amended Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(3) to provide that future parole suitability hearings should be scheduled in fifteen years, ten years, or three, five, or seven-year intervals years unless the board finds by clear and convincing evidence that statutory criteria relevant to release and the safety of the victim and public did not require the greater period of continued imprisonment. Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(3) (2010); Gilman v. Schwarzenegger, 2011 WL 198435 at *2.

In addition, Proposition 9 amended the law concerning parole deferral periods by authorizing the Board to advance a hearing date in its discretion either sua sponte or at the request of the Petitioner. § 3041.5(b), (d); Gilman v. Schwarzenegger, 2011 WL 198435, at *6.

The Constitution provides, "No State shall... pass any... ex post facto Law." U.S. Const. art I, § 10. The Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits any law which: 1) makes an act done before the passing of the law, which was innocent when done, criminal; 2) aggravates a crime and makes it greater than it was when it was committed; 3) changes the punishment and inflicts a greater punishment for the crime than when it was committed; or 4) alters the legal rules of evidence and requires less or different testimony to convict the defendant than was required at the time the crime was committed. Carmell v. Texas, 529 U.S. 513, 522 (2000). Application of a state regulation retroactively to a defendant violates the Ex Post Facto Clause if the new regulations create a "sufficient risk" of increasing the punishment for the defendant's crimes. Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 854 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Cal. Department of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 509 (1995)). When the rule or statute does not by its own terms show a significant risk, the petitioner must demonstrate, by evidence drawn from the rule's practical implementation by the agency charged with exercising discretion, that its retroactive application will result in a longer period of incarceration than under the earlier rule. Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244, 250, 255 (2000).

Previous amendments to Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5, which initiated longer periods of time between parole suitability hearings, have been upheld against challenges that they violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. See, e.g., California Department of Corrections v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 509 (1995) (where the great majority of prisoners were found unsuitable, a 1982 increase of the maximum period for deferring hearings to five years for offenders who had committed multiple homicides only altered the method of setting a parole release date and did not result in a sufficient risk of increasing the punishment or measure of punishment for the crime in the absence of modification of punishment or of the standards for determining either the initial date for parole eligibility or an inmate's suitability for parole); Watson v. Estelle, 886 F.2d 1093, 1097-98 (9th Cir. 1989) (finding no ex post facto violation in applying amended Cal. Pen. Code § 3041.5(b)(2)(A), permitting delay of suitability hearings for several years, to prisoners sentenced to a life term before California's Determinate Sentencing Law was implemented in 1977 who otherwise would have been entitled to periodic review of suitability).

Similarly, it has been held that a state law permitting the extension of intervals between parole consideration hearings for all prisoners serving life sentences from three to eight years did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause where expedited parole review was available upon a change of circumstances or receipt of new information warranting an earlier review, and where there was no showing of increased punishment. Under such circumstances, there was no significant risk of extending a prisoner's incarceration. Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244, 249 (2000). The Court recognized that state parole authorities retain broad discretion concerning release and must have flexibility in formulating parole procedures and addressing problems associated with confinement and release. Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244, 252-53. Inherent in the discretionary nature of a grant of parole is the need to permit changes in the manner in which the discretion is "informed and then exercised." Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. at 253. Further, the timing of the hearings in Garner depended in part on the parole authority's determination of the likelihood of a future grant of parole. Thus, the result was that parole resources were put to better use, which in turn increased the likelihood of release. Id. at 254. In Garner, the matter was remanded for further proceedings to determine the risk of increased punishment.

In Gilman v. Schwarzenegger, - F.3d -, No. 10-15471, 2011 WL 198435, at *2 (9th Cir. Jan. 24, 2011), the Ninth Circuit reversed a grant of injunctive relief to plaintiffs in a class action seeking to prevent the BPH from enforcing Proposition 9's amendments that defer parole consideration. The court concluded that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on their claim on the merits. Id. at *1, *3-*8. In Gilman, there was no evidence concerning whether or not more frequent parole hearings would result in more frequent grants of parole, as distinct from denials. Id. at *3. Although the changes wrought by Proposition 9 were noted to be more extensive than those before the Court in Morales and Garner, advanced hearings, which would remove any possibility of harm, were available upon a change in circumstances or new information. Id. at *6. In the absence of record facts from which ...

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