Swarthout v. Cooke, No. 10–333.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM.
Citation562 U.S. 216,131 S.Ct. 859,178 L.Ed.2d 732
Parties Gary SWARTHOUT, Warden, v. Damon COOKE. Matthew Cate, Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation v. Elijah Clay.
Docket NumberNo. 10–333.
Decision Date24 January 2011

562 U.S. 216
131 S.Ct.
859
178 L.Ed.2d 732

Gary SWARTHOUT, Warden,
v.
Damon COOKE.


Matthew Cate, Secretary, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
v.
Elijah Clay.

No. 10–333.

Supreme Court of the United States

Decided Jan. 24, 2011.


131 S.Ct. 860

PER CURIAM.

562 U.S. 216

I

California's parole statute provides that the Board of Prison Terms "shall set a release date unless it determines

562 U.S. 217

that ... consideration of the public safety requires a more lengthy period of incarceration." Cal.Penal Code Ann. § 3041(b) (West Supp.2010). If the Board denies parole, the prisoner can seek judicial review in a state habeas petition. The California Supreme Court has explained that "the standard of review properly is characterized as whether ‘some evidence’ supports the conclusion that the inmate is unsuitable for parole because he or she currently is dangerous." In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1191, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 169, 190 P.3d 535, 539 (2008). See also In re Shaputis, 44 Cal.4th 1241, 1253–1254, 82 Cal.Rptr.3d 213, 190 P.3d 573, 580 (2008) ; In re Rosenkrantz, 29 Cal.4th 616, 625–626, 128 Cal.Rptr.2d 104, 59 P.3d 174, 183 (2002).

A

Respondent Damon Cooke was convicted of attempted first-degree murder in 1991, and a California court sentenced him to an indeterminate term of seven years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. In November 2002, the board determined that Cooke was not yet suitable for parole, basing its decision on the "especially cruel and callous manner" of his commitment offense, App. to Pet. for Cert. 50a; his failure to participate fully in rehabilitative programs; his failure to develop marketable skills; and three incidents of misconduct while in prison. The board admitted that Cooke had received a favorable psychological report, but it dismissed the report as not credible because it included several inconsistent and erroneous statements.

Cooke filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in State Superior Court. The court denied his petition. "The record indicates," it said, "that there was some evidence, including but certainly not limited to the life offense, to support the board's denial." Id., at 42a. Cooke subsequently filed a habeas petition with the California Court of Appeal and a petition for direct review by the California Supreme Court. Both were denied.

562 U.S. 218

In October 2004, Cooke filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the parole board's determination. The District Court denied his petition. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that California's parole statute created a liberty interest protected by the Due Process Clause, and that "California's ‘some evidence’ requirement" was a " component" of that federally protected liberty interest. Cooke v. Solis, 606 F.3d 1206, 1213 (2010). It then concluded that the state court had made an "unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence" under § 2254(d)(2) by finding

131 S.Ct. 861

any evidence at all that Cooke would pose a threat to public safety if released. Id., at 1216. (internal quotation marks omitted).

B

Respondent Elijah Clay was convicted of first-degree murder in 1978, and a California court sentenced him to imprisonment for seven years to life with the possibility of parole. In 2003, the board found Clay suitable for parole, but the Governor exercised his authority to review the case and found Clay unsuitable for parole. See Cal. Const., Art. 5, § 8 (b); Cal.Penal Code Ann. § 3041.2 (West 2000). The Governor cited the gravity of Clay's crime; his extensive criminal history, which reflected "the culmination of a life of crime," App. to Pet. for Cert. 116a; his failure to participate fully in self-help programs; and his unrealistic plans for employment and housing after being paroled. Regarding the last factor, the Governor concluded that Clay would be likely to return to crime, given his propensity for substance abuse and lack of a viable means of employment.

Clay filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in State Superior Court. That court denied Clay's petition, as did the California Court of Appeal. The California Supreme Court denied review.

Clay subsequently filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the District Court granted. The District

562 U.S. 219

Court concluded that the Governor's reliance on the nature of Clay's long-past commitment offense violated Clay's right to due process, and dismissed each of the other factors the Governor cited as unsupported by the record. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, agreeing with the District Court's conclusion that "the Governor's decision was an unreasonable application of California's ‘some evidence’ rule and was an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented." Clay v. Kane, 384 Fed.Appx. 544, 546 (2010).

II

In granting habeas relief based on its conclusion that the state courts had misapplied California's "some evidence" rule, the Ninth Circuit must have assumed either that federal habeas relief is available for an error of state law, or that correct application of the State's "some evidence" standard is required by the federal Due Process Clause. Neither assumption is correct.

As to the first: The habeas statute "unambiguously provides that a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to a state prisoner ‘only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.’ " Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 13, 15, 178 L.Ed.2d 276 (2010)(per curiam) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) ). "We have stated many times that ‘federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.’ " Estelle v. McGuire,...

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3624 practice notes
  • Harris v. Gordy, Civil Action Number: 5:15-cv-01112-VEH-JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • November 1, 2017
    ...is not available based upon an error of state law unless such error also gives rise to a violation of federal law. Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011). And on that score, the alleged indictment defects of which Harris complains could only amount, at most, to errors of Alabama law a......
  • Avila v. Clarke, Civil Action No. 10–11800–RGS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • April 3, 2013
    ...or laws or treaties of the United States”; it “does not lie for errors of state law.” Swarthout v. Cooke, ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Applying these principles to the instant case compels the conclusion that th......
  • Lewis v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:17-cv-468-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • May 28, 2020
    ...for an objective entrapment defense). Accordingly, Lewis is not entitled to federal habeas relief on this claim. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (holding errors of state law are not cognizable in federal habeas review); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) ("[I]t i......
  • M.O.C.H.A. Soc'y, Inc. v. City of Buffalo, No. 98–CV–99–JTC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • May 30, 2012
    ...must determine “whether there exists a ... property interest of which a person has been deprived.” Swarthout v. Cooke, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011), quoted in Oneida Indian Nation of New York v. Madison County, 665 F.3d 408, 428 (2d Cir.2011). If so, then the co......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3602 cases
  • Harris v. Gordy, Civil Action Number: 5:15-cv-01112-VEH-JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • November 1, 2017
    ...is not available based upon an error of state law unless such error also gives rise to a violation of federal law. Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011). And on that score, the alleged indictment defects of which Harris complains could only amount, at most, to errors of Alabama law a......
  • Avila v. Clarke, Civil Action No. 10–11800–RGS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Massachusetts
    • April 3, 2013
    ...or laws or treaties of the United States”; it “does not lie for errors of state law.” Swarthout v. Cooke, ––– U.S. ––––, ––––, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Applying these principles to the instant case compels the conclusion that th......
  • Lewis v. Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., Case No. 3:17-cv-468-J-34JBT
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
    • May 28, 2020
    ...for an objective entrapment defense). Accordingly, Lewis is not entitled to federal habeas relief on this claim. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219 (2011) (holding errors of state law are not cognizable in federal habeas review); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) ("[I]t i......
  • M.O.C.H.A. Soc'y, Inc. v. City of Buffalo, No. 98–CV–99–JTC.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
    • May 30, 2012
    ...must determine “whether there exists a ... property interest of which a person has been deprived.” Swarthout v. Cooke, ––– U.S. ––––, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861, 178 L.Ed.2d 732 (2011), quoted in Oneida Indian Nation of New York v. Madison County, 665 F.3d 408, 428 (2d Cir.2011). If so, then the co......
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3 books & journal articles
  • Proportionality and parole.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 160 Nbr. 6, May 2012
    • May 1, 2012
    ...favorable to the individual"). The Court reaffirmed this principle in a recent post-Graham decision. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S. Ct. 859, 862 (2011) (per curiam) ("There is no right under the Federal Constitution to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sen......
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    • March 22, 2022
    ...to do so necessitates this Court's action today." (citations omitted)). Some reversals were quite pointed. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 222 (2011) ("The short of the matter is that the responsibility for ensuring that the constitutionally adequate procedures governing Cal......
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