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Cotton v. Grounds

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 9, 2014

TREANDOUS COTTON, Petitioner,
v.
R. GROUNDS, Respondent.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner, a California prisoner, filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging prison disciplinary proceedings at which he lost 360 "good time credits" for possession of an inmate-manufactured weapon. Respondent was ordered to show cause why the petition should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer and a supporting memorandum, and petitioner has filed a traverse. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is DENIED.

STATEMENT

On the morning of September 15, 2011, petitioner was walking on a patio when a correctional officer saw another inmate reach into petitioner's left shirt pocket. The officer stopped petitioner, searched him, and found three "bindles" wrapped in clear plastic. The bindles contained handwritten notes known as "kites." Petitioner was escorted to a holding cell, and correctional officers searched his cell. Officer Diaz found an inmate-manufactured weapon and a black-tar substance, later identified as heroin, underneath the left side of the cell's top bunk mattress. At the time of the cell search, the top bunk was assigned to petitioner's cell mate, Jiles.

Prison officials issued petitioner a Rules Violation Report (RVR) charging him with "Possession of a Dangerous Contraband ([Inmate] Manufactured Weapon)." See 15 Cal. Code. Reg. 3006(a). Prior to the scheduled disciplinary hearing, petitioner was allowed to submit written questions related to the incident to Jiles and Officer Diaz, who provided written responses. Petitioner also requested that Officer Quezada, Officer Diaz and Jiles appear as witnesses at the hearing. The hearing officer denied petitioner's request to have Officer Quezada and Jiles present as witnesses during the hearing, but allowed Officer Diaz to be made available by telephone. Based on the evidence presented during the hearing, petitioner was found guilty of possessing an inmate-manufactured weapon under 15 Cal. Code. Reg. 3006(a) resulting in his forfeiture of 360 good time credits.

Petitioner filed a habeas petition in the California Supreme Court challenging the disciplinary finding and loss of good time credits. The petition was summarily denied. Petitioner then filed the instant federal petition.

ANALYSIS

I. Underground Regulation

Petitioner claims that the disciplinary hearing's findings were based on evidence that he was in "constructive possession" of contraband. Petitioner claims that this violated his right to due process because prison regulations did not prohibit constructive possession of contraband at the time of the offense, and therefore the disciplinary findings amounted to an improper promulgation of an "underground regulation."

The premise of this claim is incorrect. Nowhere in the record does it say that petitioner was charged with or found guilty of constructive possession of the weapon, nor did prison officials base their finding of guilt on a constructive possession theory. Petitioner was found guilty of "possession" of an inmate-manufactured weapon under 15 Cal. Code. Reg. 3006(a). At the time of his offense, this section did not prohibit or include the phrase "constructive possession." Therefore, petitioner's conviction under 15 Cal. Code. Reg. 3006 (a) does not imply a finding of constructive possession.

Furthermore, petitioner's "underground regulation" argument is based on his assertion that the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) did not comply with the California Administrative Procedures Act. Such alleged errors in the application of state law do not state a federal question cognizable in federal habeas corpus. Wilson v. Corcoran, 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (2010) ("[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determination on state-law questions.") (quoting Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Petitioner has not shown that his federal constitutional rights were violated by prison officials' promulgation of an "underground regulation." Consequently, he is not ...


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