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Caleb Ellis v. Gary Swarthout

August 20, 2011

CALEB ELLIS, PETITIONER,
v.
GARY SWARTHOUT, RESPONDENT.



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 raises several challenges to the decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings (hereinafter "Board") to deny him parole at his parole consideration hearing held on March 12, 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 1993 judgment of conviction entered against him in the Alameda County Superior Court following his conviction on charges of first degree murder with use of a firearm and attempted murder with use of a firearm. (Doc. No. 1 at 2.) Pursuant to that conviction, petitioner was sentenced to twenty-five 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 March 12, 2008. (Doc. No. 1-1 at 2.)*fn1 Petitioner appeared at and participated in that 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 three years as well as the reasons for that decision. (Id. at 106-19.)

Petitioner first challenged the Board's 2008 decision in a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in the Alameda County Superior Court. (Answer, Ex. 1.) That court denied the petition in a decision on the merits. (Answer, Ex. 2.) 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 First Appellate District. (Answer, Ex. 3.) The California Court of Appeal summarily denied that petition. (Answer, Ex. 5.) Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. (Answer, Ex. 4.) That petition was also summarily denied. (Answer, Ex. 6.)

On June 22, 2010, petitioner filed his federal application for habeas relief in this court. Therein, petitioner raises five claims: (1) the Board's 2008 decision to deny him parole violated his rights to due process and equal protection because it was not supported by "some evidence" that he posed a current danger to society if released from prison, as required under California law; (2) the Board's 2008 decision violated his rights to due process and equal protection because the Board members were biased against him; (3) the Board's assertion that petitioner had not been adequately rehabilitated violates state law, which establishes the purpose of incarceration as punishment and not rehabilitation; (4) the Board violated state law in failing to set a primary term for petitioner; and (5) the Board's 2008 decision was invalid because it was issued pursuant to a no-parole policy, in violation of petitioner's rights to due process and equal protection. (Doc. No. 1 at 1-41.)

II. Standards of Review Applicable to Habeas Corpus Claims An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S.___, ___, 131 S. Ct. 13, 16 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) sets forth the following standards for granting federal habeas corpus relief:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim -

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

For purposes of applying § 2254(d)(1), "clearly established federal law" consists of holdings of the United States Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision. Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). Nonetheless, "circuit court precedent may be persuasive in determining what law is clearly established and whether a state court applied that law unreasonably." Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859 (quoting Maxwell v. Roe, 606 F.3d 561, 567 (9th Cir. 2010).

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law if it applies a rule contradicting a holding of the Supreme Court or reaches a result different from Supreme Court precedent on "materially indistinguishable" facts. Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 640 (2003). Under the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1), a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions, but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.*fn2

Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Williams, 529 U.S. at 413; Chia v. Cambra, 360 F.3d 997, 1002 (9th Cir. 2004). In this regard, a federal habeas court "may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. See also Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 75 (it is "not enough that a federal habeas court, in its independent review of the legal question, is left with a 'firm conviction' that the state court was 'erroneous.'"). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S.___,___,131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly, "[a]s a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner ...


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