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Boldt v. Hartley

United States District Court, C.D. California

August 13, 2014

GEOFFREY BOLDT, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES D. HARTLEY, Respondent.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

CHARLES F. EICK, Magistrate Judge.

This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable John F. Walter, United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

PROCEEDINGS

Petitioner filed a "Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody" on June 4, 2014, accompanied by a document titled "Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus - Addendum" ("Pet. Add."). The Petition challenges a September 11, 2012 decision of the California Board of Parole Hearings ("Board") deeming Petitioner unsuitable for parole for five years (see Pet. Add., p. 3; see Respondent's Lodgment 1, pp. 100, 110-11). Petitioner alleges: (1) the Board assertedly violated state law and due process by allegedly requiring Petitioner to admit guilt of the underlying offense[1] in order to be considered suitable for parole; and (2) Petitioner's continued incarceration assertedly is "inconsistent with the rudimentary demands of fair procedure" in alleged violation of due process (Petition, p. 5).

Respondent filed a "Motion to Dismiss, etc." on July 2, 2014, seeking dismissal of the Petition on the ground that the Petition fails to state any cognizable claim for federal habeas relief. Petitioner filed an "Opposition to Respondent's Motion to Dismiss Petition, etc." on August 1, 2014.

DISCUSSION

"There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence." Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex , 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979) ("Greenholtz"). In some instances, however, state statutes may create liberty interests in parole release entitled to protection under the federal Due Process Clause. See Bd. of Pardons v. Allen , 482 U.S. 369, 371 (1987); Greenholtz , 442 U.S. at 12. The Ninth Circuit has held that California's statutory provisions governing parole create such a liberty interest. See Roberts v. Hartley , 640 F.3d 1042, 1045 (9th Cir. 2011).[2]

"In the context of parole, ... the procedures required are minimal." Swarthout v. Cooke , 131 S.Ct. 859, 862 (2011) ("Swarthout"). Due process requires that the State furnish a parole applicant with an opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons for a denial of parole. Greenholtz , 442 U.S. at 16. "The Constitution does not require more." Id .; accord Swarthout , 131 S.Ct. at 862 (citation omitted); Styre v. Adams , 645 F.3d 1106, 1108 (9th Cir. 2011); see also Roberts v. Hartley , 640 F.3d at 1046 ("there is no substantive due process right created by the California's parole scheme"). Petitioner does not contend, and the record does not show, that Petitioner was denied these required procedural safeguards. See Swarthout , 131 S.Ct. at 862 (due process satisfied where inmates were allowed to speak at parole hearings, contest the evidence against them, had access to their records in advance, and were notified of the reasons for the parole denial).

Rather, Petitioner alleges that the Board required Petitioner to admit guilt of the underlying crime as a condition of a parole suitability finding, purportedly in violation of California Penal Code section 5011[3] and section 2236 of Title 15, California Code of Regulations.[4] This claim is not cognizable on federal habeas corpus.[5]

Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted "only on the ground that [Petitioner] is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(a). The interpretation of California state statutes regarding the state's parole system presents only a matter of state law not cognizable in this federal habeas proceeding. See Swarthout , 131 S.Ct. at 863 ("[T]he responsibility for assuring that the constitutionally adequate procedures governing California's parole system are properly applied rests with California courts, and is no part of the Ninth Circuit's business."); Roberts v. Hartley , 640 F.3d at 1047 (federal habeas court is not authorized "to reevaluate California's application of its rules for determining parole eligibility") (citation omitted); see generally Wilson v. Corcoran , 131 S.Ct. 13, 16 (2010) ("We have repeatedly held that federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law") (citations and internal quotations omitted); Estelle v. McGuire , 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) (same). Hence, Petitioner's allegations that the Board assertedly violated state law by supposedly denying parole based on Petitioner's refusal to admit guilt of the underlying crime do not allege any claim for federal habeas relief. See, e.g., Jones v. Calif. Bd. of Parole Hearings, 2012 WL 5512380, at *2 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 5, 2012), adopted, 2012 WL 5519747 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 14, 2012) (alleged violation of California Penal Code section 5011 does not state a cognizable federal claim); Jones v. Swarthout, 2012 WL 2499955, at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 27, 2012) (same); Jenson v. Cate, 2011 WL 4835706, at *5 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 11, 2011) (same).

Petitioner also asserts that the Board's decision was unfair because the Board assertedly denied parole based on allegedly immutable factors such as Petitioner's prior consumption of alcohol (Pet. Add., p. 5). The California Supreme Court has held, as a matter of state law, that "some evidence" must exist to support a parole denial. See In re Lawrence , 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1212, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169, 190 P.3d 535 (2008). Under California law, the requisite "some evidence" can include evidence of supposedly "immutable" factors which show the inmate continues to pose an unreasonable risk to public safety. Id. at 1221. In Swarthout, however, the United States Supreme Court rejected the contention that the federal Due Process Clause contains a guarantee of evidentiary sufficiency with respect to a parole determination. Swarthout , 131 S.Ct. at 862 ("No opinion of ours supports converting California's some evidence' rule into a substantive federal requirement.").[6] Petitioner's arguments notwithstanding, the decision in Swarthout prevents this Court from concluding that there exists any federal constitutional requirement regarding the sufficiency, or insufficiency, of the evidence to support a denial of parole eligibility. See also Madrid v. Mendoza-Powers, 424 Fed.App'x 671, 672 (9th Cir. 2011) (Swarthout foreclosed claim that Board denied parole based on allegedly immutable factors); Claborn v. Swarthout, 2013 WL 6799059, at *2-3 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2013) (under Swarthout, claim that Board could not continue to deny petitioner parole based on allegedly immutable factors did not state a claim for federal habeas relief); Kun Shan Peng v. Tilton, 2012 WL 5350266, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 29, 2012) (same).

RECOMMENDATION

For the foregoing reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Court issue an Order: (1) accepting and adopting this Report and Recommendation; (2) granting Respondent's Motion to Dismiss; and (3) directing that Judgment be entered dismissing the Petition with prejudice.


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