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Sariaslan v. Rackley

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 23, 2019

RAMIN SARIASLAN, Petitioner,
v.
RONALD RACKLEY, Respondent.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges denials of parole suitability by the Board of Parole Hearings (“BPH”).

         Rule 4 of the Federal Rules Governing § 2254 Cases provides that if it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief, the district court must dismiss the petition. For the reasons stated herein, this court finds it clear that petitioner is not entitled to relief. Accordingly, this action should be dismissed.

         BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder in 1984 and sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. In this action, petitioner challenges his seven parole suitability proceedings. Petitioner raises the following claims: (1) the evidence did not support the BPH's findings of dangerousness; (2) the parole denials violate the standards set out by the California Supreme Court in In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181 (2008); (3) the Marin County Superior Court violated his rights by the way in which it reviewed his habeas petition; (4) the BPH's use of the same factors to deny parole each time have essentially given petitioner a sentence of life without parole; (5) the use of Proposition 9 (“Marsy's Law”) to deny parole violates the Ex Post Facto Clause; (6) the BPH's consideration of a three-year old psychiatric exam violated petitioner's rights to due process and equal protection; and (7) the state courts violated petitioner's rights by the ways in which each considered, or refused to consider, petitioner's habeas petitions.

         PETITIONER'S CLAIMS

         I. Petitioner's Challenges to the BPH Decisions

         In claims 1, 4, and 6, petitioner alleges the BPH considered improper factors in denying parole. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court overruled a line of Ninth Circuit precedent that had supported habeas review in California cases involving denials of parole by the BPH and/or the governor. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216 (2011). The Supreme Court held that federal habeas jurisdiction does not extend to review of the evidentiary bases for state parole decisions. Because habeas relief is not available for errors of state law, and because the Due Process Clause does not require correct application of California's “some evidence” standard for denial of parole, federal courts may not intervene in parole decisions as long as minimum procedural protections are provided. Id. at 220-21.

         Federal due process protection for such a state-created liberty interest is “minimal, ” the determination being whether “the minimum procedures adequate for due-process protection of that interest” have been met. The inquiry is limited to whether the prisoner was given the opportunity to be heard and received a statement of the reasons why parole was denied. Id. at 221; Miller v. Oregon Bd. of Parole and Post-Prison Super., 642 F.3d 711, 716 (9th Cir. 2011) (“The Supreme Court held in Swarthout that in the context of parole eligibility decisions the due process right is procedural, and entitles a prisoner to nothing more than a fair hearing and a statement of reasons for a parole board's decision.”). This procedural inquiry is “the beginning and the end of” a federal habeas court's analysis of whether due process has been violated when a state prisoner is denied parole. Swarthout, 562 U.S. at 220. The Ninth Circuit has acknowledged that after Swarthout, substantive challenges to parole decisions are not cognizable in habeas. Roberts v. Hartley, 640 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir. 2011).

         After Swarthout, petitioner's claims 1 and 4 that the BPH considered improper evidence to conclude that petitioner remained a danger are not cognizable in this case. For the same reasons, petitioner's claim 6 that the BPH improperly relied on an outdated psychiatric exam is not cognizable. All three claims should be dismissed.

         II. In re Lawrence

         Petitioner contends the BPH violated the standards set out by the California Supreme Court in In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181 (2008), for considering parole suitability. In Lawrence, the California Supreme Court held that prisoners have a substantive due process right to a fixed parole date for indeterminate sentences unless the BPH legitimately finds that public safety requires continued incarceration. 44 Cal.4th at 1205-06. Prisoners are entitled to release on parole unless there is “some evidence” of their current dangerousness. Id.

         In Swarthout, the Court held that California's “some evidence” standard is not a substantive federal requirement. 562 U.S. at 220. The Court specifically rejected the notion that there can be a valid claim under the Fourteenth Amendment for insufficiency of the evidence presented, or relied upon, at a parole proceeding. Id. at 220-21. Rather, the protection afforded by the federal Due Process Clause to California parole decisions consists solely of the “minimum” procedural requirements described above: an opportunity to be heard and a statement of the reasons why parole was denied. Id. at 220; see also Miller, 642 F.3d at 717; Madrid v. Mendoza-Powers, 424 Fed.Appx. 671, 672 (9th Cir. 2011) (Swarthout v. Cooke foreclosed a claim that the BPH could not continue to deny petitioner parole based on the allegedly immutable factors of his commitment offense, previous record of violence, and social history). Therefore, the court should dismiss petitioner's claim 2.

         III. State ...


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