Molina v. Thaler
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS that the Court DENY Molina's 5 Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and DENY the issuance of a COA. Signed by Judge Robert Pitman. (klw, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
JESUS JOSE MOLINA,
RICK THALER, Director,
Texas Dept. of
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
The Honorable Sam Sparks, United States District Judge
The Magistrate Judge submits this Report and Recommendation to the District Court
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Rule 1(e) of Appendix C of the Local Court Rules of the United
States District Court for the Western District of Texas, Local Rules for the Assignment of Duties to
United States Magistrates, as amended, effective December 1, 2002.
Before the Court are Petitioner’s Application for Habeas Corpus Relief under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 (Document 5), Respondent’s Answer (Document 10), and Petitioner’s response thereto
(Document 12). Petitioner, proceeding pro se, has paid the filing fee for his application. For the
reasons set forth below, the undersigned finds that Petitioner’s application for writ of habeas corpus
should be denied.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Petitioner’s Criminal History
According to Respondent, the Director has lawful and valid custody of Petitioner pursuant
to a judgment and sentence of the 329th Judicial District Court of Wharton County, Texas in cause
number 14614. Petitioner was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and was sentenced to ten
years in prison. Respondent asserts he also has custody of Petitioner pursuant to a judgment and
sentence of the 175th Judicial District Court of Bexar County, Texas in cause number 2007CR0776.
Petitioner was convicted of third-degree felony offense of driving while intoxicated and was
sentenced to eight years in prison.
Petitioner does not challenge his holding convictions. Rather, he challenges the Board of
Pardons and Paroles’ decision to deny him release on discretionary mandatory supervision.
According to Respondent, the Board denied discretionary mandatory supervision to Petitioner in
September 2010. After being denied release on mandatory supervision, Petitioner filed a state
application for habeas corpus relief on December 1, 2010. Ex parte Molina, Appl. No. 75,253-01
at 14-23. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied the application without written order on
January 19, 2011. Id. at cover.
Grounds for Relief
Construing Petitioner’s application liberally, Petitioner raises the following grounds for
The Board of Pardons and Paroles has violated his right to due process when he was
denied discretionary mandatory supervision;
The Board considers the crime of conviction when determining whether or not to
deny discretionary mandatory supervision and not Petitioner’s efforts at rehabilitation
or evidence concerning his future dangerousness; and
The Parole Board’s reasons for denial are arbitrary and capricious.
Exhaustion of State Court Remedies
Respondent does not contest that Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies regarding
the claims brought in this application. A review of the state court records submitted by Respondent
shows that Petitioner has properly raised these claims in previous state court proceedings.
DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS
The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state
custody is defined by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The text of § 2254(d) states:
“An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant
to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that
was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the 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.”
By its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim “adjudicated on the merits” in state court,
subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2). Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784
(2011). Determining whether a state court’s decision resulted from an unreasonable legal or factual
conclusion does not require that there be an opinion from the state court explaining the state court’s
reasoning. Id. (citations omitted). A state court need not cite or even be aware of Supreme Court
cases under § 2254(d). Id. (citing Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8, 123 S. Ct. 362 (2002) (per curiam).
Where a state court’s decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner’s burden
must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief. Id. This is
so whether or not the state court reveals which of the elements in a multi-part claim it found
insufficient, as the Supreme Court explained, § 2254(d) applies when a “claim,” not a component
of one, has been adjudicated. Id.
Federal habeas relief may not be granted for claims subject to § 2254(d) unless it is shown
that the earlier state court’s decision “was contrary to” federal law then clearly established in the
holdings of the Supreme Court, § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S. Ct. 1495
(2000); or that it “involved an unreasonable application of” such law, § 2254(d)(1); or that it “was
based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the record before the state court,
The “contrary to” requirement “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of ... [the
Supreme Court’s] decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Dowthitt v. Johnson,
230 F.3d 733, 740 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting (Terry) Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S. Ct.
1495, 1523 (2000)).
The inquiry into whether the decision was based on an “unreasonable
determination of the facts” constrains a federal court in its habeas review due to the deference it must
accord the state court. See id.
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 Supreme
Court] has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. 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 Supreme Court’s]
decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner’s case.
Id. at 740-41.
Section 2254(d)(2) speaks to factual determinations made by the state courts. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(e)(1). While we presume such determinations to be correct, the petitioner can rebut this
presumption by clear and convincing evidence. See id. Absent an unreasonable determination in
light of the record, we will give deference to the state court’s fact findings. See id. § 2254(d)(2).
Petitioner makes various claims that his due process rights have been violated with respect
to the denial of mandatory supervision. “Mandatory supervision” is “the release of an eligible inmate
so that the inmate may serve the remainder of the inmate’s sentence not on parole but under the
supervision of the pardons and paroles division.” T EX. G OV ’T. C ODE § 508.001(5). Whereas an
inmate’s release on parole is wholly discretionary, an inmate’s release on mandatory supervision is
required, subject to certain exceptions, when the “actual calendar time the inmate has served plus any
accrued good conduct time equals the term to which the inmate was sentenced.” Id. at § 508.147(a);
Jackson v. Johnson, 475 F.3d 261, 263, n. 1 (5th Cir. 2007).
Both the Fifth Circuit and the Texas courts have held Texas’s post-September 1, 1996
mandatory provision scheme (outlined above) does create a protected liberty interest. Teague v.
Quarterman, 482 F.3d 769, 777 (5th Cir. 2007); Ex parte Geiken, 28 S.W.3d 553, 558 (Tex. Crim.
App. 2000). Therefore, Petitioner is correct in noting he has a protected liberty interest, and is
entitled to due process protection with respect to the decisions to deny him mandatory supervision.
However, this simply means certain procedural due process protections must be afforded Petitioner
by the Board before it decides whether to release him on mandatory supervision. Procedural due
process requires, essentially, that Petitioner be given notice and a meaningful opportunity to be
heard. Geiken, 28 S.W.3d at 560. Additionally, if release is denied, “the inmate must be informed
in what respects he falls short of qualifying for early release.” Id. (citing Greenholtz v. Inmates of
Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 16 (1979)). Therefore, the only issues before
this Court are (1) whether Petitioner was provided timely notice he was to be considered for
mandatory supervision release, (2) whether he was given a meaningful opportunity to be heard; in
other words, a meaningful opportunity to tender information to the Board in support of his release,
and (3) whether he was informed in what respects he fell short of qualifying for early release.
The record reflects Petitioner was given notice of his mandatory supervision review on
June 22, 2010, and the notice indicated the review was to occur within thirty days of October 9,
2010. See Resp. Ex. B. The notice also indicated Petitioner could submit evidence to the Board
panel before August 25, 2010. Id. Therefore, Petitioner had adequate notice of the specific 30-day
window in which his review would take place, as well as an opportunity to submit evidence to the
Board panel in support of his release. The record also reflects the Board specifically set forth the
factors justifying its determination not to release him on mandatory supervision on September 14,
2010. Id. Petitioner does not deny he received notice of the Board’s decision and rationale.
Therefore, Petitioner received the process to which he was due under the law with regard to his 2010
denial of mandatory supervision.
To the extent Petitioner may be complaining the Board’s reasoning or the guidelines it
follows are too vague or arbitrary, the Court of Criminal Appeals has considered this argument and
rejected it. Geiken, 28 S.W.3d at 557. In Geiken, the applicant argued the statutory criteria directing
the Board to evaluate the inmate’s potential for rehabilitation and whether his release would
endanger the public “are too vague to provide any guidance to the Board in making its decision
and...this Court should, because of this vagueness, hold this portion of the statute unconstitutional.”
Id. The Court of Criminal Appeals rejected the argument, explaining the factors in question represent
“valid concerns in making the release decision,” and “are not so vague as to provide the Board with
no guidance in their decision.” Id. The Geiken court concluded, “The early release decision is
necessarily subjective and cannot be limited to rigidly defined factors. In creating a parole or other
early release system, ‘the state may be specific or general in defining the conditions for release and
the factors that should be considered by the parole authority.’” Id. (citing Greenholtz, 442 U.S. at
8). Therefore, Petitioner’s constitutional challenge to the factors considered by the Board is without
merit. As for the sufficiency of the denial explanations, the Fifth Circuit has upheld similar
explanations in the mandatory supervision context, and the Board is not required to produce evidence
in support of its decision. See Boss v. Quarterman, 552 F.3d 425, 428-29 (5th Cir. 2008) (holding
the Due Process Clause does not require further explanation than the “paragraphs cut verbatim from
the Parole Board’s Directives.”). Although Petitioner did not receive the result he desired, he was
afforded all the process he was due under the United States Constitution.
Having independently reviewed the entire state court record, this Court finds nothing
unreasonable in the state court’s application of clearly established federal law or in the state court’s
determination of facts in light of the evidence.
It is recommended that Petitioner’s application for writ of habeas corpus be denied.
CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
An appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals from a final order in a habeas corpus
proceeding “unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c) (1)(A). Pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, effective
December 1, 2009, the district court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters
a final order adverse to the applicant.
A certificate of appealability may issue only if a petitioner has made a substantial showing
of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). The Supreme Court fully explained
the requirement associated with a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right” in
Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484, 120 S. Ct. 1595 (2000). In cases where a district court
rejected a petitioner’s constitutional claims on the merits, “the petitioner must demonstrate that
reasonable jurists would find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable
or wrong.” Id. “When a district court denies a habeas petition on procedural grounds without
reaching the petitioner’s underlying constitutional claim, a COA should issue when the petitioner
shows, at least, that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid claim
of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it debatable whether the
district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Id.
In this case, reasonable jurists could not debate the dismissal or denial of the Petitioner’s
section 2254 petition on substantive or procedural grounds, nor find that the issues presented are
adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed. Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 327, 123 S. Ct.
1029 (2003) (citing Slack, 529 U.S. at 484). Accordingly, it is respectfully recommended that the
Court shall not issue a certificate of appealability.
The parties may file objections to this Report and Recommendation. A party filing
objections must specifically identify those findings or recommendations to which objections are
being made. The District Court need not consider frivolous, conclusive, or general objections.
Battles v. United States Parole Comm’n, 834 F.2d 419, 421 (5th Cir. 1987).
A party’s failure to file written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations
contained in this Report within fourteen (14) days after the party is served with a copy of the Report
shall bar that party from de novo review by the district court of the proposed findings and
recommendations in the Report and, except upon grounds of plain error, shall bar the party from
appellate review of unobjected-to proposed factual findings and legal conclusions accepted by the
district court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150-153, 106 S. Ct.
466, 472-74 (1985); Douglass v. United Servs. Auto. Assoc., 79 F.3d 1415 (5th Cir. 1996)(en banc).
To the extent that a party has not been served by the Clerk with this Report and
Recommendation electronically, pursuant to the CM/ECF procedures of this District, the Clerk is
ORDERED to mail such party a copy of this Report and Recommendation by certified mail, return
SIGNED this 13th day of May, 2011.
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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