Crump v. Lafler, No. 09-1073 (6th Cir. September 20, 2011) (to be published). Panel of Judges Cole, Gibbons, and Cleland (E.D. Mich.). Judge Cole dissented.
Petitioner argued that Mich law governing parole created a liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment enforceable under 28 U.S.C. 2254. Court found that, despite Mich classifying a parole-eligible inmate as having a high probability of release, actual release determinations are uncertain and the parole board has broad discretion. There is no enforceable claim of entitlement to release. Ct affirmed dismissal of the petition.
Petitioner convicted of CSC 3rd and sentenced to 3 to 22.5 years. Also picked up a cocaine charge while on bond for the CSC. Got 7 to 20 (consecutive to the CSC) for the cocaine. Petitioner became eligible for parole in '08. He was marked as having a high probability of parole. But after the parole-board interview, the board denied parole for 18 months.
Petitioner argued that the board relied on a seven-year-old psych report that could not adequately reflect his risk of recidivism in '08. He raised other arguments regarding the board's reasons for denying parole. Petitioner filed a "motion to show cause" in federal court (W.D. Mich.), which the court interpreted as a 2254. Petitioner argued that board's decision was not supported by evidence and constituted a deprivation of liberty w/o due process. The magistrate judge recommended dismissal for failure to raise a meritorious federal claim. The district court adopted the recommendation and dismissed the petition. The ct also denied a cert of appealability. Petitioner appealed; the COA granted a certificate of appealability.
Court reiterated that "There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before expiration of a valid sentence." States may establish parole systems, but there is no duty to do so. The Supreme Court found that Nebraska's parole system (in 1979) should be afforded some constitutional scrutiny b/c the statutory scheme was unique, ordering that an inmate SHALL be released unless certain factors are present. The same was true of Montana's system. And the reasoning applied even in cases where the parole board had broad discretion. Even if the board has discretion, if the board determines, in its discretion, that the factors are met such that the statute requires release, there is a liberty interest.
The Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, decided in Sweeton v. Brown, 27 F.3d 1162 (6th Cir. 1994), that Michigan's parole system does not create a liberty interest. The Sweeton decision, however, was not dispositive b/c Mich had since amended the parole system to curtail discretion.
But Michigan's system does not presume release (e.g., release mandated unless certain factors present). Under the Mich system, any expectation of release is limited to a class of inmates. So at best, only a limited class of inmates could have a potential liberty interest. And this class is not readily discernible from the statute. And the reasons the parole board could use to deny parole are ambiguous in the statute: there is very broad discretion. Beyond this discretion, there is the issue that "the classification into which each prisoner is placed is a 'probability.' While Petitioner may have been classified as a 'high probability of parole,' a probability does not equal a presumption."
Mich's amendments to the parole system do not change the holding in Sweeton. "There is no 'legitimate claim of entitlement to' parole, . . . and thus no liberty interest in parole."
Judge Cole dissented. He found that under Supreme Court precedent Michigan's parole system creates a presumption that release will be granted. There is a liberty interest for inmates classified with a "high probability of parole."
Both the majority and the dissent are fun to read. The language is energetic and the writers use entertaining and colorful analogies, examples, and quotes.