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Abe Williams, Jr v. M. Martel

September 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry J. Hatter, Jr. Senior United States District Judge


In 1987, Petitioner was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to fifteen years to life with an additional three one-year consecutive sentences. The Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal, and the California Supreme Court denied Petitioner's habeas petitions. When the California Board of Prison Terms ("BPT") denied Petitioner parole in 1999, he petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus from federal court. In 2006, the BPT denied him parole again.

He now petitions the Court for a writ of habeas corpus based on the 2006 BPT decision, asserting that:

1. Denial of the credits mandated by his sentencing statute's provisions violated his Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as his federal liberty and vested interests;

2. Denial of his parole was arbitrary and capricious and the BPT acted in a biased and unfair manner, violating Petitioner's due process and equal protection rights;

3. The state court habeas decision was contrary to clearly established Supreme Court authority, was an unreasonable application of Supreme Court authority, was objectively unreasonable, and was an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of state court proceedings; and

4. A state evidentiary hearing is required as a matter of law because it is impossible to adjudicate a habeas petition with unsettled facts.

The Petitioner asserts a fifth, new claim in his Traverse that his First Amendment rights were violated by forced participation in a therapy group.

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication was either: 1) Contrary to, or involved an unreasonable appli-cation of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or 2) Based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the State Court proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1-2). Petitioner has not demonstrated that he is entitled to relief under this standard.

Petitioner's first claim fails. Under the AEDPA, if a prisoner asserts a claim that he already has presented in a previous federal habeas petition, the claim must be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(1). Here, Petitioner presented his claim concerning the denial of credits to a federal court in 2005, and that claim was denied on the merits. Thus, the credit claim must be dismissed as successive under the AEDPA.

Petitioner's second claim fails. The Supreme Court specifically rejected the argument that parole decisions are to be reviewed for evidentiary sufficiency in Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal & Corr. Complex. 442 U.S. 1, 15, 99 S. Ct. 2100, 2107, 60 L. Ed. 2d 668, 680 (1979). An opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons why the inmate did not qualify for parole are sufficient to protect against an arbitrary state parole decision. Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 16. A parole authority is not required to cite evidence to support its decision. Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 16.

The "some-evidence" test that Petitioner argues controls was developed in the context of a prison disciplinary hearing, Superintendent, Massachusetts Corr. Inst., Walpole v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 457, 105 S. Ct. 2768, 2775, 86 L. Ed. 2d 356, 366 (1985), which, as the Supreme Court has recognized, is a fundamentally different context than a parole proceeding. See Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 15-16. Because the tests and standards developed by the Supreme Court in one context cannot be transferred to a distinguishable context for AEDPA purposes, it is not appropriate to apply the some-evidence standard of judicial review to parole decisions.

As to Petitioner's claim that the BPT acted unfairly, the only case in which the Supreme Court has specifically addressed the process due in state parole proceedings is Greenholtz. There, the Supreme Court held that due process is satisfied when the state provides an inmate an opportunity to be heard and a statement of the reasons for the parole decision. Greenholtz. 442 U.S. at 16. "The Constitution does not require more." Greenholtz. 442 U.S. at 16. No other Supreme Court holdings require more at a parole hearing. Thus, the state court decisions upholding the BPT's decision were not contrary to clearly established federal law.

Petitioner argues that the BPT's decision was biased because the hearing panel said that the commitment offense was cruel and callous. While it is true that the Due Process Clause prevents the state from depriving a plaintiff of a protected interest without "a fair trial in a fair tribunal," In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S. Ct. 623, 625, 99 L. Ed. 942, 946 (1955), to prevail Petitioner must "overcome a presump-tion of honesty and integrity" on the part of decision-makers. Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47, 95 S. Ct. 1456, 1464, 43 L. Ed. 2d 712, 723 (1975). Here, the evidentiary record does not demonstrate bias. Instead, it indicates that Petitioner did not object to the panel considering his parole suitability, that the hearing was conducted in an orderly fashion, and that the panel considered facts demonstrating Petitioner's suitability for parole. Thus, the state courts ...

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