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Michael Arriola v. Michael Martel

June 3, 2011

MICHAEL ARRIOLA, PETITIONER,
v.
MICHAEL MARTEL, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding through counsel with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner raises a due process challenge to the decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter "Board") to deny him parole at his suitability hearing held on August 20, 2008. The matter has been fully briefed by the parties and is submitted for decision. Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, the undersigned will recommend that petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief be denied.

I. Procedural Background

Petitioner is confined pursuant to a 1994 judgment of conviction entered against him in the Los Angeles County Superior Court following his conviction on a charge of second degree murder. (Pet., Ex. A.) Pursuant to that conviction, petitioner was sentenced to fifteen years to life in state prison. (Id.)

The parole consideration hearing that is placed at issue by the instant federal habeas petition was held on August 20, 2008. (Pet., Ex. B at 2.)*fn1 Petitioner appeared at and participated in the hearing. (Id. at 4, et seq.) Following deliberations held at the conclusion of the hearing, the Board panel announced their decision to deny petitioner parole for one year as well as the reasons for that decision. (Id. at 126-36.)

Petitioner challenged the Board's 2008 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. (Answer, Ex. 2.) That court denied the petition in a decision on the merits of petitioner's claims. (Answer, Ex. 3.) Petitioner subsequently challenged the Board's 2008 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District. (Answer, Ex. 4.) The Court of Appeal denied that petition, citing the decisions in In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181 (2008) and In re Shaputis, 44 Cal. 4th 1241 (2008). (Answer, Ex. 5.) Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court. (Answer, Ex. 6.) That petition was summarily denied. (Answer, Ex. 7.)

On October 14, 2010, petitioner filed his federal application for habeas relief in this court. Therein, petitioner contends that the Board's 2008 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. (Pet. at 9-29.)

II. Scope of Review

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.

III. Petitioner's Due Process Claim

As noted above, petitioner seeks federal habeas relief on the grounds that the Board's 2008 decision to deny him parole, and the findings upon which that denial was based, were not supported by "some evidence" as required under California law. 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 ...


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