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Name: Swarthout v. Cooke
Case #: 10-333
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 01/24/2011
Subsequent History: 131 S.Ct. 859; 178 L.Ed.2d 732

In the context of California’s parole statute, there is no federal habeas relief for errors of state law, and the federal review available is limited to whether the applicant was allowed an opportunity to be heard and advised of the reasons why parole was denied. Cooke, convicted of attempted first-degree murder, was denied parole by the Board of Prison Terms, which found that he was not suitable because of the nature of the offense, his prison adjustment, failure to participate in rehabilitative programs, and failure to develop marketable skills. Clay was found suitable by the board but the Governor reversed the finding. The Ninth Circuit granted relief, finding that the parole statute created a liberty interest protected by the due process clause and, in Cooke’s case, the state made an unreasonable determination. The Ninth Circuit found that in Clay’s case, the Governor’s decision was an unreasonable application of the “some evidence rule.” The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, holding that federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law. Further, the liberty interest in parole is a state interest created by California law. There is no right under the federal Constitution to be conditionally released before expiration of sentence, and the states are under no duty to offer parole. If a state does offer parole, thereby creating a state liberty interest, the due process clause requires fair procedures for its implementation. These procedures are minimal, however, requiring only that the applicant has an opportunity to be heard and is advised of the reasons for parole denial. (Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal and Correctional Complex (1979) 442 U.S. 1.) Here, both Cooke and Clay were offered the opportunity to speak at the parole hearing and were advised of the denial.