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Boyd v. Beale

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 3, 2016

BONNELL BOYD, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES BEALE, Warden, Deerfield Correctional Center, Respondent.

          OPINION

          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge

         The petitioner, Bonnell Boyd, seeks a writ of habeas corpus because he alleges that the Virginia Parole Board (the "Board") violated his due process rights when it denied him geriatric release. He says that the Board violated its own procedures in stopping the vote on his geriatric release and then restarting it after the composition of the Board had changed. Boyd argues these actions constitute a due process violation. After the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed his petition, he filed a §2254 petition in this Court. The defendant, James Beale, Warden of Deerfield Correctional Center (the "Warden"), has filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Court grants the defendant's motion and dismisses the petition because Boyd fails to state a claim that the Board violated his due process rights.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In December 1996, a jury convicted Boyd of two counts of rape and one count of object penetration. Following the jury's recommendation, the judge sentenced Boyd to 25 years in prison.

         Under Virginia law, "any person serving a sentence imposed upon a conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed ... may petition the Parole Board for conditional release/7 Va. Code Ann. § 53.1-40.01. Upon his initial eligibility in 2004, Boyd began filing annual petitions for geriatric conditional release with the Board. With these petitions, Boyd submitted reports, evaluations, and opinions from a number of experts supporting his release. The Board denied each petition.

         The Board has set procedures for determining whether to grant a geriatric parole petition. The Board's five members vote individually and in succession on each petition. Three of the five members would need to vote "yes" on a petition for the Board to grant geriatric parole. The members cast their votes via the Corrections Information System ("CORIS"). Once voting has started, it typically does not stop until all five members have voted. If a board member or board staff member must stop the voting for a legitimate reason before all members cast their votes, they must post a date of action and explanation in CORIS.

         During Boyd's May 2014 parole vote, Boyd alleges that the Board violated its procedures. According to Boyd, the third board member to vote intended to vote "yes, " giving Boyd his third "yes" vote, but, before he could vote, the case disappeared from his computer. Boyd alleges that another board member, Karen Brown, violated procedure by stopping the vote, which resulted in the third member's inability to vote. She allegedly stopped the voting by placing a "Case Closed" action in CORIS for Boyd's petition with no date, explanation, or indication that she was responsible for doing so.

         Voting did not restart until July, but, this time, Brown began the vote and former Chairman William Muse had retired. Importantly, Muse had been one of Boyd's original "yes" votes. Without Muse's vote, Boyd only received two "yes" votes, thereby precluding a grant of parole.

         Alleging that the above actions resulted in the denial of his petition for geriatric release, Boyd filed an original petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Virginia accompanied by sworn declarations from Jane Alford, a rehabilitation specialist who helped Boyd with his parole applications, and former Chairman Muse. The Warden filed a motion to dismiss accompanied by an affidavit from Brown. In response, Boyd filed a motion for discovery and for an evidentiary proceeding, citing disputes of fact, such as which member actually held the position of Chairman of the Board throughout various portions of the relevant time period and what the Board's specific policy says in relation to the relevant events. The Supreme Court of Virginia denied Boyd's request and granted the Warden's motion to dismiss. The court stated that Boyd lacked a "liberty interest" in his release and stated that Brown's actions did not violate Board policy.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In order to obtain federal habeas relief, at a minimum, a petitioner must demonstrate that "he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"') circumscribes this Court's authority to grant relief by way of a writ of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 et seq. "State court factual determinations are presumed to be correct and may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence." Gray v. Branker, 529 F.3d 220, 228 (4th Cir. 2008).

         The district court's review of the state court's factual findings is purposefully narrow, See Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1399 (2011) (holding that the district court's review under § 2254(d) is limited to the evidentiary record before the state court because "[i]t would be contrary to [AEDPA's] purpose to allow a petitioner to overcome an adverse state-court decision with new evidence introduced in a federal habeas court and reviewed by that court in the first instance effectively de novo").

         Additionally, a federal court may not grant habeas relief with respect to any claim that the state court adjudicated on the merits 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 ...

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