FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS
Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges the decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter "Board") to deny him parole for two years at his ninth subsequent parole consideration hearing held on November 6, 2007. He claims that the Board's decision violated his right to due process. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.
Petitioner is confined pursuant to a 1986 judgment of conviction entered against him in the Los Angeles County Superior Court following his conviction on charges of kidnapping for robbery. (Pet. at 1.)*fn1 Pursuant to that conviction, petitioner was sentenced to seven years to life plus three years in state prison. (Id.)
Petitioner's ninth subsequent parole consideration hearing, which is placed at issue by the instant petition, was held on November 6, 2007. (Pet. at 30.) Petitioner appeared at and participated in the hearing. Id. at 30-122. Following deliberations held at the conclusion of the hearing, the Board panel announced both their decision to deny petitioner parole for two years and the reasons for that decision. Id. at 123-34
On February 6, 2008, petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Los Angeles County Superior Court challenging the Board's 2007 decision. (Answer, Ex. A.) That court denied the petition in a reasoned decision on the merits of petitioner's claims. (Answer, Ex. B.) Petitioner subsequently challenged the Board's 2007 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the California Supreme Court. (Answer, Ex. C.) That petition was summarily denied. (Answer, Ex. D.)
Petitioner then filed his federal application for habeas relief in this court. Therein, petitioner contends that the Board's 2007 decision finding him unsuitable for parole after he had served "his minimum and maximum" violated his right to due process because there was no evidence before the Board establishing that he was a then-current threat to public safety. (Pet. at 4, 6, 10-12.) Petitioner argues that the Board improperly relied on his commitment offense and prior criminal history to find him unsuitable for parole even though those factors "will never change." (Id. at 5, 7.) In this regard, petitioner disagrees that his crime was carried out in a "very callous manner," as found by the Board. (Id. at 5-6.) Petitioner also argues that he has met all of the standards established under California law indicating that he is suitable for parole, whereas he does not meet the state criteria for a finding of unsuitability. (Id. at 9.) Petitioner further argues that the Board improperly relied on his prison disciplinary record to find him unsuitable for parole. (Id. at 13.) He contends that the conduct underlying his prison disciplinary record does not justify a finding that he is dangerous. (Id. at 13-14.) In short, petitioner claims that the Board's 2007 decision to deny him parole was not supported by "some evidence" that he posed a current danger to society if released from prison, as required under California law.
Applicable to Due Process Challenges to the Denial of Parole The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state action that deprives a person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. A litigant alleging a due process violation must first demonstrate that he was deprived of a liberty or property interest protected by the Due Process Clause and then show that the procedures attendant upon the deprivation were not constitutionally sufficient. Kentucky Dep't of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 459-60 (1989).
A protected liberty interest may arise from either the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution "by reason of guarantees implicit in the word 'liberty,'" or from "an expectation or interest created by state laws or policies." Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). See also Board of Pardons v. Allen, 482 U.S. 369, 373 (1987). The United States Constitution does not, of its own force, create a protected liberty interest in a parole date, even one that has been set. Jago v. Van Curen, 454 U.S. 14, 17-21 (1981); Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979) (There is "no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence."). However, a state's statutory scheme, if it uses mandatory language, "creates a presumption that parole release will be granted" when or unless certain designated findings are made, and thereby gives rise to a constitutional liberty interest. Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 12. See also Allen, 482 U.S. at 376-78.
California's parole scheme gives rise to a liberty interest in parole protected by the federal Due Process Clause. Pirtle v. California Bd. of Prison Terms, 611 F.3d 1015, 1020 (9th Cir. 2010); McQuillion v. Duncan, 306 F.3d 895, 902 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. ___ , ___, 131 S. Ct. 859, 861-62 (2011) (finding the Ninth Circuit's holding in this regard to be a reasonable application of Supreme Court authority); Pearson v. Muntz, ___F.3d___, 2011 WL 1238007, at *4 (9th Cir. Apr. 5, 2011) ("[Swarthout v.] Cooke did not disturb our precedent that California law creates a liberty interest in parole.") In California, a prisoner is entitled to release on parole unless there is "some evidence" of his or her current dangerousness. In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1205-06, 1210 (2008); In re Rosenkrantz, 29 Cal.4th 616, 651-53 (2002).
In Swarthout, the Supreme Court reviewed two cases in which California prisoners were denied parole - in one case by the Board, and in the other by the Governor after the Board had granted parole. Swarthout, 131 S. Ct. at 860-61. The Supreme Court noted that when state law creates a liberty interest, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires fair procedures, "and federal courts will review the application of those constitutionally required procedures." Id. at 862. The Court concluded that in the parole context, however, "the procedures required are minimal" and that the "Constitution does not require more" than "an opportunity to be heard" and being "provided a statement of the reasons why parole was denied." Id. (citing Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 16). The Supreme Court therefore rejected Ninth Circuit decisions that went beyond these minimal procedural requirements and "reviewed the state courts' decisions on the merits and concluded that they had unreasonably determined the facts in light of the evidence." Swarthout, 131 S. Ct. at 862. In particular, the Supreme Court rejected the application of the "some evidence" standard to parole decisions by the California courts as a component of the federal due process standard. Id. at 862-63.*fn2 See also Pearson, 2011 WL 1238007, at *4.
As noted above, here petitioner seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that the Board's 2007 decision to deny him parole, and the findings upon which that denial was based, were not supported by "some evidence" that he posed a current danger to society if released from prison as required under California law. (Pet. at 12, 14-24.) However, under the Supreme Court's decision in Swarthout this court may not review whether California's "some evidence" standard was correctly applied in petitioner's case. 131 S. Ct. at 862-63; see also Miller v. Oregon Bd. of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision, ___F.3d___, 2011 WL 1533512, at *5 (9th Cir. Apr. 25, 2011) ("The Supreme Court held in [Swarthout v.] Cooke that in the context of parole eligibility decisions the due process right is procedural, and entitles a prisoner to nothing more than a fair hearing and a statement of reasons for a parole board's decision[.]"); Roberts v. Hartley, ___F.3d___, 2011 WL 1365811, at *3 (9th Cir. Apr. 12, 2011) (under the decision in Swarthout, California's parole scheme creates no substantive due process rights and any procedural due process requirement is met as long as the state provides an inmate seeking parole with an opportunity to be heard and a statement of the reasons why parole was denied); Pearson, 2011 WL 1238007, at *3 ("While the Court did not define the minimum process required by the Due Process Clause for denial parole under the California system, it made clear that the Clause's requirements were satisfied where the inmates '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.'")
The federal habeas petition pending before the court in this case reflects that petitioner was represented by counsel at his 2007 parole suitability hearing. (Pet. at 31.) As noted above, the record also establishes that at his 2007 hearing petitioner was given the opportunity to be heard and received a statement of the reasons why parole was denied by the Board panel. That is all the process that was due petitioner under the Constitution. Swarthout, 131 S. Ct. 862; see also Miller, 2011 WL 1533512, at *5; Roberts,2011 WL 1365811, at *3; Pearson, 2011 WL 1238007, at *3. It now ...