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Name: Roberts v. Hartley
Case #: 10-15760
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 04/12/2011

Where an inmate is given the opportunity to be heard and notification regarding the reasons for denial, a state’s decision to deny parole comports with due process. Petitioner was serving a life term for a 1985 second degree murder. At his 2006 parole hearing the Board denied parole based on the nature of the offense, petitioner’s minimization of the murder, and his reasons for surrendering to police. The petitioner pursued collateral relief in the state courts; the superior court found the denial supported by the “some evidence” standard. Petitioner’s request for review was denied by the state appellate court and Supreme Court. The federal district court issued the a writ after concluding that California misapplied its “some evidence” standard for determining petitioner’s eligibility for parole and had thereby denied him due process. In light of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Swarthout v. Cooke (2011) 131 S.Ct. 859, the Ninth Circuit here reversed. Previously, the Ninth Circuit allowed California prisoners seeking parole to pursue a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus based on the state court’s misapplication of the “some evidence” standard, explicitly holding the standard creates a liberty interest protected by the due process clause. However, the high court, voting 9-0, in Cooke held that the Ninth Circuit did not apply the correct legal standard for determining whether a state court has violated a prisoner’s due process rights by affirming the Parole Board’s denial of parole. The language in that opinion was particularly severe: “The short of the matter is that the 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 9th Circuit’s business,” the justices wrote. The Court found a two-step process must be used. First, it must be determined whether a liberty interest exists which has been denied. Second, whether the procedures followed by the state were constitutionally sufficient. There is no substantive due process right created by California’s parole procedure. Where a state provides fair procedures, due process is satisfied as long as the inmate receives access to their records in advance, an opportunity to be heard, and notification of the reasons parole was denied. A state’s misapplication of its own laws (here, the “some evidence” standard) does not provide a basis for granting a federal writ. Reversed.