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Kenneth A. Roberts v. James D. Hartley

April 12, 2011

KENNETH A. ROBERTS,
PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
JAMES D. HARTLEY, WARDEN, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California Anthony W. Ishii, Chief District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 1:08-cv-01093-AWI-JMD

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wallace, Senior Circuit Judge:

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted January 11, 2011-San Francisco, California

Before: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, J. Clifford Wallace and Barry G. Silverman, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Wallace

OPINION

The Warden appeals from the district court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus in favor of Petitioner Kenneth A. Roberts. The district court issued the writ pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) after concluding that California misapplied its standard for determining Roberts's eligibility for parole. We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(a). In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S. Ct. 859 (2011), we reverse.

I.

California law vests the State Board of Prison Terms (Board) with authority to evaluate whether state prisoners, such as Roberts, are eligible for parole. In conducting this evaluation, the Board is required to "set a release date" for an inmate unless the Board finds that "consideration of the public safety requires a more lengthy period of incarceration." Cal. Penal Code Ann. § 3041(b) (West 2010). When the Board determines that an inmate is ineligible for parole, that prisoner can seek judicial review by filing a petition for collateral relief in state court. Review of the Board's decision, however, is "extremely deferential." In re Rosenkrantz, 59 P.3d 174, 210 (Cal. 2002). A decision denying parole must be upheld as long as " 'some evidence' supports the conclusion that the inmate . . . is dangerous." In re Lawrence, 190 P.3d 535, 539 (Cal. 2008).

Roberts appeared before the Board for consideration of his eligibility for parole in June 2006. He had been convicted of second-degree murder twenty years earlier and sentenced to a term of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole. At the 2006 parole hearing, the Board permitted Roberts to speak on his own behalf and to respond to the evidence presented against him. Upon review of the evidence in Roberts's parole file, the Board denied parole due to concerns about the nature of Roberts's offense, his subsequent minimization of the murder, and his reasons for surrendering to law enforcement.

Shortly after the Board issued its decision, Roberts filed a petition for collateral relief in state superior court. Relying on Rosenkrantz, Roberts asserted that the Board's parole decision was not supported by sufficient evidence of dangerousness. The superior court disagreed, concluding that the Board's decision satisfied California's "some evidence" standard because Roberts committed his crime in "a dispassionate and calculated manner" and for a "very trivial motive." Roberts's subsequent petitions to the court of appeal and state supreme court were summarily denied.

Roberts then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Eastern District of California. Following then-existing precedent, the district court issued the writ, holding that Roberts's due process rights had been violated by the state court's misapplication of California's "some evidence" standard for parole determinations. Relying on a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court concluded that there was no nexus between the facts ...


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