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Adonai El-Shaddai v. C. Gipson

December 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


Petitioner, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges the 2009 decision by the California Board of Parole Hearings (BPH) finding him unsuitable for parole.

On January 24, 2011, the United States Supreme Court in a per curiam decision found that the Ninth Circuit erred in commanding a federal review of the state's application of state law in applying the "some evidence" standard in the parole eligibility habeas context. Swarthout v. Cooke, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 859, 861 (2011). Quoting, inter alia, Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991), the Supreme Court re-affirmed that "'federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.'" Id. While the high court found that the Ninth Circuit's holding that California law does create a liberty interest in parole was "a reasonable application of our cases" (while explicitly not reviewing that holding),*fn1 the Supreme Court stated:

When, however, a State creates a liberty interest, the Due Process Clause requires fair procedures for its vindication-and federal courts will review the application of those constitutionally required procedures. In the context of parole, we have held that the procedures required are minimal.

Swarthout v. Cooke, at 862.

Citing Greenholtz,*fn2 the Supreme Court noted it had found under another state's similar parole statute that a prisoner had "received adequate process" when "allowed an opportunity to be heard" and "provided a statement of the reasons why parole was denied." Swarthout v. Cooke, at 862. Noting their holding therein that "[t]he Constitution [] does not require more," the justices in the instances before them, found the prisoners had "received at least this amount of process: They 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." Id.

The Supreme Court was emphatic in asserting "[t]hat should have been the beginning and the end of the federal habeas courts' inquiry...." Swarthout v. Cooke, at 862. "It will not do to pronounce California's 'some evidence' rule to be 'a component' of the liberty interest...." Id., at 863. "No opinion of ours supports converting California's "some evidence" rule into a substantive federal requirement." Id., at 862. The Ninth Circuit recently noted that in light of Swarthout v. Cooke, certain Ninth Circuit jurisprudence had been reversed and "there is no substantive due process right created by California's parole scheme." Roberts v. Hartley, 640 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir. 2011). Thus, there is no federal due process requirement for a "some evidence" review and federal courts are precluded from review of the state court's application of its "some evidence" standard.

In the instant petition, petitioner alleges that his rights under the Eighth Amendment, due process and equal protection were violated when he was denied parole as he is being held beyond his statutory maximum eligible parole date. Petitioner states he was sentenced to a life sentence with the possibility of parole for kidnaping, robbery and rape. Petitioner's due process claims are foreclosed by Swarthout and his equal protection claim is difficult to discern and should be denied as meritless.*fn3

As a general matter, "so long as the sentence imposed does not exceed the statutory maximum, it will not be overturned on eighth amendment grounds." United States v. McDougherty, 920 F.2d 569, 576 (9th Cir. 1990). Here, petitioner has not established that his sentence exceeds the statutory maximum. Petitioner's sentence of life with the possibility of parole carries no guaranteed parole date, and carries with it the potential that he could serve the entire term. See Pearson, 639 F.3d 1185, 1187 (9th Cir. 2011) (explaining that prisoners serving indeterminate life prison sentences [i.e., those whose life sentences do not include 'without the possibility of parole'] may serve up to life in prison, but may be considered for parole after serving minimum terms of confinement).

Moreover, the Ninth Circuit has said that any emotional trauma from dashed expectations concerning parole "does not offend the standards of decency in modern society." Baumann v. Arizona Department of Corrections, 754 F.2d 841, 846 (9th Cir. 1985). See also Bowens v. Sisto, No. CIV S-08-CV-1489 LKK CHS, 2011 WL 2198322, at *8 (E.D. Cal. June 6, 2011) ("Petitioner fails to articulate how the denial of parole to an inmate serving an indeterminate life sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, particularly where a parole grant in this context would effectively reduce his presumptively valid maximum sentence of life imprisonment.").

To the extent that petitioner is raising a proportionality challenge to his sentence, he fares no better. First, parole eligibility proceedings do not determine the sentence. The life sentence was imposed by the state court many years ago. As set forth earlier, life in prison is the presumptive sentence for petitioner's crimes. The denial of parole eligibility by the BPH does not implicate the sentence given. Moreover, even if petitioner's sentence could be reviewed in the context of a parole eligibility decision, with the exception of capital cases, successful Eighth Amendment challenges to the proportionality of a sentence have been "exceedingly rare." Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 272, 100 S.Ct. 1133 (1980); Ramirez v. Castro, 365 F.3d 755, 756-57 (9th Cir. 2004). The Eighth Amendment forbids only extreme sentences that are grossly disproportionate to the crime. Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 1001, 111 S.Ct. 2680 (1991) (Kennedy, J., concurring). In Hamelin, the Supreme Court upheld a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for a first offense crime of possession of 672 grams of cocaine as not being disproportionate. Id. at 1009. Petitioner's rape, robbery and kidnaping convictions are much more serious.

For all these reasons, petitioner's Eighth Amendment claim should be denied. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that;

1. Petitioner's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. ...

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