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Rodriguez v. Spearman

United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division

December 2, 2014

MARTIN RODRIGUEZ, Petitioner,
v.
M.E. SPEARMAN, Warden, et al., Respondent

Martin Rodriguez, Petitioner, Pro se, Soledad, CA.

For M E Spearman, Warden (A), Respondent: Brian Campbell Kinney, LEAD ATTORNEY, CAAG - Office of the Attorney General of California, San Francisco, CA.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

Andrew J. Wistrich, United States Magistrate Judge.

In this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, petitioner challenges a decision of the Board of Parole Hearings (" Board") denying him parole. Respondent filed an answer to the petition, and petitioner filed a reply.

A federal court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in state custody

with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). As used in Section 2254(d), the phrase " clearly established federal law" means " holdings of the Supreme Court at the time of the state court decision." Stanley v. Cullen, 633 F.3d 852, 859 (9th Cir. 2011) ( citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 412); see also Lopez v. Smith, 135 S.Ct. 1, 2, 190 L.Ed.2d 1 (2014) (per curiam) (the AEDPA " prohibits the federal courts of appeals from relying on their own precedent to conclude that a particular constitutional principle is 'clearly established.'") (citation omitted).[1]

Grounds One, Two, and Three

In ground one of the petition, petitioner alleges that the Board's failure to set a uniform prison term " commensurate on [sic] [his] offense and response to treatment violates [the] ex post facto clause." [Petition at 5]. In grounds two and three, he complains that the Board applied the incorrect evidentiary standard, and as a result, improperly relied upon his commitment offense to deny parole. He further contends that the Board's reliance on the standard allowing consideration of his commitment offense to find him unsuitable for parole violated the Ex Post Facto Clause. [Petition at 5-6].

Federal habeas review is limited to deciding whether a conviction violates the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a); Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, __, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011) (per curiam) (explaining that federal habeas corpus relief is not available for errors of state law); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67, 112 S.Ct. 475, 116 L.Ed.2d 385 (1991) (same). Petitioner's allegations regarding the proper application of California law by the Board do not implicate any federally protected right. Roberts v. Hartley, 640 F.3d 1042, 1047 (9th Cir. 2011) (federal habeas court is not authorized " to reevaluate California's application of its rules for determining parole eligibility") (citation omitted). This is true notwithstanding his conclusory assertion of an ex post facto violation. See Langford v. Day, 110 F.3d 1380, 1389 (9th Cir. 1996) (explaining that a petitioner may not " transform a state-law issue into a federal one merely by asserting a violation of due process"), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 881, 118 S.Ct. 208, 139 L.Ed.2d 144 (1997).

Furthermore, despite his attempts to frame his claims as involving a federal constitutional right, petitioner essentially challenges the Board's reliance on the commitment offense to find him unsuitable for parole. Federal habeas review of state parole decisions is extremely limited. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. at 862. As the Supreme Court explained in Cooke, " the responsibility for assuring that the constitutionally adequate procedures governing California's parole system are properly applied rests with California courts, " and not with the federal court. Thus, the sole issue available for federal court review is whether a prisoner denied parole has received minimal procedural protections -- namely, an opportunity to be heard and a statement of the reasons why parole was denied. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. at 862 (citing Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 16, 99 S.Ct. 2100, 60 L.Ed.2d 668 (1979). It is " of no federal concern ... whether California's 'some evidence' rule of judicial review (a procedure beyond what the Constitution demands) was correctly applied." Cooke, 131 S.Ct. at 863. Where, as here, an inmate has received an opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons for the parole denial, that is " the beginning and the end of the federal habeas courts' inquiry into whether [petitioner] received due process." Cooke, 131 S.Ct. at 862.

Therefore, petitioner's allegations that the Board applied the incorrect standard when weighing the evidence related to his parole suitability are not reviewable in a federal habeas corpus action.

Petitioner's reliance on the Ex Post Facto Clause fares no better. The Ex Post Facto Clause prohibits states from enacting laws which, by retroactive operation, increase the punishment for a crime after its commission. Garner v. Jones, 529 U.S. 244, 250, 120 S.Ct. 1362, 146 L.Ed.2d 236 (2000). A law violates this prohibition if it: (1) " appl[ies] to events occurring before its enactment, " Weaver v. Graham, 450 U.S. 24, 29, 101 S.Ct. 960, 67 L.Ed.2d 17 (1981); and (2) " produces a sufficient risk of increasing the measure of punishment attached to the covered crimes." Cal. Dep't. of Corr. v. Morales, 514 U.S. 499, 504, 115 S.Ct. 1597, 131 L.Ed.2d 588 (1995). There is no ex post facto violation if the new law " creates only the most speculative and attenuated risk of increasing the measure of punishment attached to the covered crimes." Morales, 514 U.S. at 513.

Although not entirely clear, petitioner apparently contends that the Board improperly relied upon a " new" standard set forth in In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169, 190 P.3d 535 (2008) rather than the one set forth in People v. Morse, 60 ...


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