United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
WAVERLY M. RICHARDSON, JR., Petitioner,
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.
JOHN A. GIBNEY, District Judge.
Waverly M. Richardson, Jr., a Virginia prisoner proceeding pro se, submitted this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Richardson contends the Virginia Parole Board ("VPB") violated his rights by refusing to release him on discretionary parole. Specifically, Richardson contends that:
Claim One The VPB violated Richardson's right to due process. "The Virginia Parole Board violated the Due Process Clause by using their own standards to consider me/Petitioner for parole release...." (§ 2254 Pet. 6.)
Claim Two "Parole Board abused it[s] discretionary power by denying Petitioner substantial and procedural due process rights by claiming a factor that will never change as the reason parole release should be denied when Petitioner meets all required criteria...." ( Id. at 7.)
Claim Three "Ex Post Facto violation[: Va. Code § 53.1-155 was applied to Petitioner retroactively abolishing parole release altogether." ( Id. at 9.) Respondent has moved to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 18) will be GRANTED.
I. Due Process Claims
The Due Process Clause applies when government action deprives an individual of a legitimate liberty or property interest. See Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569-70 (1972). Thus, the first step in analyzing a procedural due process claim is to identify whether the alleged conduct affects a protected liberty or property interest. Beverati v. Smith, 120 F.3d 500, 502 (4th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Where government action impacts a protected liberty interest, the second step is to determine "what process is due" under the circumstances. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972) (observing that "due process is flexible.... not all situations calling for procedural safeguards call for the same kind of procedure").
A liberty interest may arise from the Constitution itself, or from state laws and policies. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 220-21 (2005). "There is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence." Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). "With no constitutional right to parole per se, federal courts recognize due process rights in an inmate only where the state has created a legitimate claim of entitlement' to some aspect of parole." Vann v. Angelone, 73 F.3d 519, 522 (4th Cir. 1996) (quoting Gaston v. Taylor, 946 F.2d 340, 344 (4th Cir. 1991)).
"Contrary to [Richardson's] view..., the pertinent [Virginia] statutes, far from creating a presumption that release will be granted [if he meets certain criteria], absolutely prohibits parole unless the Parole Board decides otherwise.'" Burnette v. Fahey, No. 3:10CV70, 2010 WL 4279403, at *8 (E.D. Va. Oct. 25, 2010) (second alteration in original) (quoting James v. Robinson, 863 F.Supp. 275, 277 (E.D. Va.), aff'd, No. 94-7136, 1994 WL 709646 (4th Cir. Dec. 22, 1994)). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit consistently has found the pertinent Virginia statutes governing release on discretionary parole fail to create a protected liberty interest in release on parole. See Burnette v. Fahey, 687 F.3d 171, 181 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Gaston v. Taylor, 946 F.2d 340, 344 (4th Cir. 1991); Vann v. Angelone, 73 F.3d 519, 522 (4th Cir. 1996)). Virginia, however, has created a limited liberty interest in consideration for parole. Burnette, 2010 WL 4279403, at *8; Burnette, 687 F.3d at 181. The question thus becomes what procedures are required under the Due Process Clause in [considering] an inmate for discretionary release on parole.'" Burnette, 2010 WL 4279403, at *8 (alteration in original) (quoting Neal, 2008 WL 728892, at *2).
The Fourth Circuit has stated that the Constitution requires only a very limited amount of process in considering an inmate for parole. Specifically, "[a]t most, ... parole authorities must furnish to the prisoner a statement of its reasons for denial of parole." Burnette, 687 F.3d at 181 (alteration and omission in original) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). "So long as the statement provides a valid ground for denying parole, the federal courts cannot, under the guise of due process, demand more from the state." Burnette, 2010 WL 4279403, at *8 (citation omitted).
Here, the VPB provided Richardson with a statement of its reasons for denying him parole. (ECF No. 19-1, at 8-9 (as paginated by the Court's CM/ECF docketing system). Specifically, the VPB declined to release Richardson on parole because:
Serious nature and circumstances of offense
Release at this time would diminish ...