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Thompson v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 16, 2015

RANDY BLADES, Respondent.


EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is Steven Todd Thompson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, asserting that his constitutional rights were violated when the State required him to forfeit 1, 106 days of parole time, after three separate revocations of parole and subsequent incarcerations. (Dkt. 1.) Respondent has filed a response to the Petition (Dkt. 13) and lodged additional state court records (Dkt. 14), and Petitioner has filed a Reply (Dkt. 15). The federal Petition is now fully briefed. Having reviewed the record in this matter, including the state court record, the Court finds that oral argument is unnecessary and enters the following Order.


1. Standard of Law

Federal habeas corpus relief may be granted on claims adjudicated on the merits in a state court judgment when the federal court determines that the petitioner "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Under § 2254(d), as amended by the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), federal habeas relief is further limited to instances where the state court's adjudication of the petitioner's 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.[1] 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A federal habeas court reviews the state court's "last reasoned decision" in determining whether a petitioner is entitled to relief. Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 804 (1991).

Where a petitioner contests the state court's legal conclusions, including application of the law to the facts, § 2254(d)(1) governs. That section consists of two alternative tests: the "contrary to" test and the "unreasonable application" test.

Under the first test, a state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law "if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court] [has] done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002).

Under the second test, to satisfy the "unreasonable application" clause of § 2254(d)(1) the petitioner must show that the state court-although identifying "the correct governing legal rule" from Supreme Court precedent-nonetheless "unreasonably applie[d] it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 407 (2000). "Section 2254(d)(1) provides a remedy for instances in which a state court unreasonably applies [Supreme Court] precedent; it does not require state courts to extend that precedent or license federal courts to treat the failure to do so as error." White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1706 (2014).

A federal court cannot grant habeas relief simply because it concludes in its independent judgment that the state court's decision is incorrect or wrong; rather, the state court's application of federal law must be objectively unreasonable to warrant relief. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003); Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. If fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision, then relief is not warranted under § 2254(d)(1). Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011). The Supreme Court emphasized that "even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." Id. (internal citation omitted).

Though the source of clearly established federal law must come only from the holdings of the United States Supreme Court, circuit precedent may be persuasive authority for determining whether a state court decision is an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Duhaime v. Ducharme, 200 F.3d 597, 600-01 (9th Cir. 1999). However, circuit law may not be used "to refine or sharpen a general principle of Supreme Court jurisprudence into a specific legal rule that th[e] [Supreme] Court has not announced." Marshall v. Rodgers, 133 S.Ct. 1446, 1450 (2014).

If the state appellate court did not decide a properly-asserted claim on the merits- or if the state court's factual findings are unreasonable under § 2254(d)(2)-then § 2254(d)(1) does not apply, and the federal district court reviews the claim de novo. Pirtle v. Morgan, 313 F.3d 1160, 1167 (9th Cir. 2002). In such a case, as in the pre-AEDPA era, a district court can draw from both United States Supreme Court and well as circuit precedent, limited only by the non-retroactivity rule of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).

Under de novo review, if the factual findings of the state court are not unreasonable, the Court must apply the presumption of correctness found in § 2254(e)(1) to any facts found by the state courts. Pirtle, 313 F.3d at 1167. Contrarily, If a state court factual determination is unreasonable, or if there are no state court factual findings, the federal court is not limited by § 2254(e)(1), but proceeds to a de novo review of the claims, which may include consideration of evidence outside the state court record, subject to the limitations of § 2254(e)(2). Murray v. Schriro, 745 F.3d 984, 1000 (9th Cir. 2014).

2. Discussion

Petitioner has organized his claims into six categories with several subclaims, while Respondent has reorganized the same claims into five, according to similar content. For ease of application, the Court follows Respondent's grouping of the claims and subclaims into five categories: (1) Petitioner was denied due process of law when the state district court (a) failed to follow an Idaho Supreme Court case from 1906 that would require the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole (ICPP) to credit his parole time to his sentence, (b) failed to follow Idaho Code § 20-233, (c) and erroneously applied Idaho Code § 20-228; (2) Petitioner was denied due process of law when the ICPP failed to inform him in advance that his parole time could be forfeited; (3) the forfeiture of Petitioner's street time violated state law, in particular I.C § 18-309; (4) (a) Petitioner's sentencing order is "unique" and mandates that Petitioner shall not be in custody and/or supervised by the Board of Correction for more than 14 years, precluding any forfeiture of his parole time, and (b) application of I.C. § 20-228 is unconstitutional as applied to Petitioner's unique sentence; and (5) (a) Petitioner's equal protection rights were violated when the ICPP required forfeiture of Petitioner's street time, but did not require other parole violators to forfeit their street time, and (b) it is impossible to apply I.C. § 20-228 to offenders except in a discriminatory fashion that violates equal protection.

A. Claim One

Petitioner's first claim is that he was denied due process of law when the state district court failed to follow a 1906 case from the Idaho Supreme Court and credit his "street time" to his prison sentence, instead choosing to follow a modern statute, Idaho Code § 20-228. The Idaho Court of Appeals classified this claim as a state separation of powers claim. (Dkt. 1-7, p. 7.)

Regardless of this claim's particular classification within state law, the Court agrees with the reasoning of Judge Dale that this is a state-law argument that cannot form the basis of a federal habeas corpus claim. Even if the state courts failed to follow Ex parte Proust, 86 P. 275 (Idaho 1906), and Idaho Code § 20-233, [2] relief in federal court is unavailable under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) ("[I]t is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions."); Chromiak v. Field, 406 F.2d 502, 505 (9th Cir. 1969) (federal constitutional doctrine of separation of judicial and executive powers applies only to operation of federal government and is not binding upon the states, and resolution of an issue concerning separation of powers in State Constitution is for state courts to decide).

The Court further agrees that the narrow exception that permits a federal court to review a state law in a federal habeas corpus action does not apply to Plaintiff's case. A federal court may review a state court's interpretation of state law only when the state court's interpretation (1) is "untenable, " meaning "incapable of being maintained or supported, " or (2) "amounts to a subterfuge to avoid federal review of a constitutional violation." Taylor v. Kincheloe, 920 F.2d 599, 609 (9th Cir. 1990); see Mullaney v. Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 691 & n.11 (1975).

Judge Dale explained:

The Idaho Court of Appeals' rejection of Petitioner's claim is not untenable. Rather, Petitioner's reliance on a 1906 Idaho case is foreclosed by the plain language of the statute and modern interpretations of that statute. In Winter v. State, 785 P.2d 667 (Idaho Ct. App. 1989), the court explained that I.C. § 20-233 provides only that if the term of the sentence "expire[s]" while an individual is on parole, the parolee shall be discharged." Id. at 670 (emphasis added). The Winter Court made clear that I.C. § 20-233 did not "speak[] to the specific issue presented in this case- how the maximum sentence' shall be computed, and when it will expire, ' if parole has been granted but subsequently revoked. " Id. (emphasis added). Rather, the "only statute which speaks to this question is I.C. § 20-228." Id.[3] In addition, in State v. Kaiser, 696 P.2d 868 (Idaho 1985), the court explained that § 20-233 granted the ICPP authority to ...

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