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 is serving a sentence of seventeen years to life in state prison following his 1986 conviction for second degree murder with use of a weapon.
In his pending federal habeas petition, petitioner challenges a September 17, 2009 decision by the California Board of Parole Hearings (Board) finding him unsuitable for parole and deferring his next parole consideration hearing for five years. This matter is before the court on respondent's motion to dismiss the petition pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts (hereinafter "Habeas Rules"). Petitioner opposes the motion.
Rule 4 of the Habeas Rules requires the court to summarily dismiss a habeas petition "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court." A motion for summary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4 of the Habeas Rules is an appropriate motion in habeas proceedings. See O'Bremski v. Maass, 915 F.2d 418, 420 (9th Cir. 1990).
In his first claim for relief, petitioner contends that the Board's 2009 decision to deny him parole for a period of five years violated his federal constitutional right to due process of law because: the Board relied unfairly on the unchanging circumstance of his commitment offense and other pre-offense factors to deny him parole; the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious; there was insufficient evidence in the record before the Board that petitioner would pose a current danger to society if released from prison; and the Board failed to properly apply California Supreme Court cases in reaching its unfavorable parole suitability decision. (Pet. (Doc. No. 1), at 4-17.) Petitioner also argues that the Fresno County Superior Court's denial of his state habeas petition, in which he raised this due process claim, was erroneous and violated California and federal law. (Id. at 18- 21, 27-28.)
Respondent counters by arguing that petitioner's due process claim is not cognizable in this federal habeas corpus proceeding and should therefore be dismissed. (Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. No. 11) at 2.)
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, 639 F.3d 1185, 1191 (9th Cir. 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 Cooke, 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. Cooke, 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." Cooke, 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. See also Pearson, 639 F.3d at 1191.*fn1
Here, it is plain from the record in this case that petitioner was present at his 2009 parole consideration hearing, that he participated in that hearing, and that he was provided with the reasons for the Board's decision to deny him parole. (Doc. No. 1-1 at 28-96; Doc. No. 1-2 at 1-44.) According to the United States Supreme Court, the federal due process clause requires no more. ...