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Andrew F. Walker v. D. K. Sisto

September 6, 2011

ANDREW F. WALKER, PETITIONER,
v.
D. K. SISTO, WARDEN, 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 for one year at his fourteenth parole consideration hearing held on April 4, 2006. Specifically, petitioner claims that the Board's decision violated the Ex Post Facto and Double Jeopardy Clauses as well as his federal constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and a jury trial. 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 judgment of conviction entered in the Alameda County Superior Court on November 14, 1977, on charges of first degree murder and kidnapping. (Doc. No. 1 at 1.)*fn1 Pursuant to that state court conviction, petitioner was sentenced to life in state prison with the possibility of parole. (Id.)

The parole consideration hearing at issue was held on April 4, 2006. (Doc. No. 1 at 20.) It was petitioner's fourteenth such hearing. (Id.) On that date, a panel of the Board found petitioner not suitable for release on parole and denied him parole for one year. (Id. at 27.)

Petitioner challenged the Board's decision in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed in the Alameda County Superior Court. (Answer, Ex. 2.) That petition was denied by order dated March 1, 2007, in which the court reasoned as follows:

The Petition for writ of habeas corpus is denied. The Petition fails to state a prima facie case for relief. While not submitting a transcript of the entire hearing, Petitioner has submitted numerous documents in support of his Petition, review of the transcripts provided and documents pertaining to the April 4, 2006 hearing, indicate that there was no abuse of discretion by the Board of Prison Terms. The factual basis of the BPT's decision granting or denying parole is subject to a limited judicial review. A Court may inquire only whether some evidence in the record before the BPT supports the decision to deny parole. The nature of the offense alone can be sufficient to deny parole. (In re Rosenkrantz (2002) 29 Cal.4th 616, 652, 658, 682; In re Dannenberg (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1061. The record presented to this Court for review demonstrates that there was certainly some evidence, including, but not limited to the committing offense, including Petitioner's continuing denial of culpability for that offense, and the conclusions contained in the psychologist's report about the future dangerousness of Petitioner based on his insistence of not being the perpetrator of the committing offense. There is nothing in the record that indicates that the Board's decision was arbitrary or capricious, nor that Petitioner's equal protection or due process rights were violated. Thus, Petitioner has failed to meet his burden of sufficiently proving or supporting the allegations that serve as the basis for habeas relief.

(Answer, Ex. 1.)

Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District. (Answer, Ex. 3.) Although the record before this court does not contain a copy of the Court of Appeal's decision in response to this state habeas petition, respondent represents that petitioner's application for relief was summarily denied by the state appellate court. (Answer at 2 & Ex. 4.) On June 20, 2007, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. (Answer, Ex. 5.) That petition was summarily denied by order dated August 8, 2007. (Answer, Ex.6.)

Petitioner filed the instant petition in this court on October 2, 2007. On March 4, 2010, the district court granted the petition with respect to petitioner's due process claim, relying on then-binding Ninth Circuit precedent. (Doc. Nos. 15 & 17.) Judgment was entered accordingly. (Doc. No. 18.) In light of that disposition, the district court did not address petitioner's remaining challenges to the Board's 2006 decision finding him unsuitable for parole. Respondent filed a timely appeal and the district court granted respondent's motion for a stay pending appeal. (Doc. Nos. 19 & 23.) During the pendency of the appeal, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. ___ , 131 S. Ct. 859, 861-62 (2011) wherein it rejected the Ninth Circuit decisions upon which the granting of habeas relief in this case had relied. Accordingly, in a memorandum decision dated June 28, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the judgment and rejected petitioner's due process claim. (Doc. No. 25.) The Ninth Circuit remanded the matter to this court to rule on petitioner's remaining challenges to the Board's 2006 decision to deny him parole. (Id.) Below, this court will address those remaining challenges.*fn2

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.*fn3

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 must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington,131 S. Ct. at 786-87.

If the state court's decision does not meet the criteria set forth in § 2254(d), a reviewing court must conduct a de novo review of a habeas petitioner's claims. Delgadillo v. Woodford, 527 F.3d 919, 925 (9th Cir. 2008); see also Frantz v. Hazey, 533 F.3d 724, 735 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) ("[I]t is now clear both that we may not grant habeas relief simply because of § 2254(d)(1) error and that, if there is such error, we must decide the habeas petition by considering de novo the constitutional issues raised.").

The court looks to the last reasoned state court decision as the basis for the state court judgment. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 859; Robinson v. Ignacio, 360 F.3d 1044, 1055 (9th Cir. 2004). If the last reasoned state court decision adopts or substantially incorporates the reasoning from a previous state court decision, this court may consider both decisions to ascertain the reasoning of the last decision. Edwards v. Lamarque, 475 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 2007) (en banc). "When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784-85. This presumption may be overcome by a showing "there is reason to think some other explanation for the state court's decision is more likely." Id. at 785 (citing Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 803 (1991)). Where the state court reaches a decision on the merits but provides no reasoning to support its conclusion, a federal habeas court independently reviews the record to determine whether habeas corpus relief is available under § 2254(d). Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003). "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes, 336 F.3d at 853. Where no reasoned decision is available, the habeas petitioner still has the burden of "showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784.

When it is clear, however, that a state court has not reached the merits of a petitioner's claim, the deferential standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) does not apply and a federal habeas court must review the claim de novo. Stanley, 633 F.3d at 860; Reynoso v. Giurbino, 462 F.3d 1099, ...


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