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Urenda v. Hatton

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 30, 2017

JOSE URENDA, Petitioner,
v.
S. HATTON, Respondent.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL DKT. NO. 13

          WILLIAM H. ORRICK United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner Jose Urenda seeks federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 from the state's denial of parole in 2014. He claims that the California Board of Parole Hearings (“Board”) violated his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment (due process and equal protection) rights when it used confidential information to deny him parole. Because he had an opportunity to be heard during the hearing and the Board Commissioners explained the basis of their denial of his parole, he received all of the process that the United States Supreme Court has held that he is due. Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 862 (2011); Greenholtz v. Inmates of Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 16 (1979). Accordingly, as urged by respondent in his motion to dismiss, the petition will be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         Jose Urenda is incarcerated for second degree murder. (Pet. at 2.) The date of the offense was September 19, 1992. (Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. No. 13-1 at 52.) Urenda was 19 years old. (Id., Dkt. No. 13-3 at 18.) His first parole hearing occurred on April 10, 2014. (Id., Dkt. No. 13-1 at 4.) The Commissioners questioned Urenda about the underlying offense, his family background and his efforts at rehabilitation while in prison. He and his counsel addressed the Commissioners in support of parole. (Id., Dkt. No. 13-3 at 9-14.) After a hearing that lasted more than two hours, the Commissioners retired to deliberate and ultimately returned and explained in detail why they were denying parole. (Id., Dkt. No. 13-3 at 15-29.)

         In the course of their explanation, the Commissioners referred to their review of and reliance upon “the confidential portion of the Central File.” (Id., Dkt. No. 13-3 at 15-16.) This confidential information was not shown to Urenda or his counsel. (Pet. at 15.) His inability to see it and respond to whatever it contained is the basis of this writ.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), this Court may entertain a petition for writ of habeas corpus “in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The petition may not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's 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).

         “Under the ‘contrary to' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000).

         “Under the ‘unreasonable application' clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.” Id. at 413. “[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” Id. at 411. A federal habeas court making the “unreasonable application” inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was “objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 409.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Due Process[1]

         In the parole context, the due process protections owed to a prisoner are minimal: an opportunity to be heard and a statement of reasons parole was denied. The Constitution does not require more because the parole decision is highly discretionary and subjective. The “parole-release decision . . . depends on an amalgam of elements, some of which are factual but many of which are purely subjective appraisals by the Board members based upon their experience with the difficult and sensitive task of evaluating the advisability of parole release.” Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at 9-10.

         Because the parole decision is largely discretionary, the elaborate procedural safeguards afforded at trial, the “full panoply of due process required to convict and confine, ” are inapplicable. Id. at 14. A parole hearing is not, then, “a traditional adversary hearing.” Id. at 4. It is not a determination of guilt or a testing of evidence. As such, a prisoner is not ...


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