Parole Reversal Was|Above Board, Court Says

     (CN) – A murderer does not have a habeas case after the governor of California canceled his parole release with 18 years served, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
     Jeffrey Biggs was convicted of murder in 1987 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Two years later, California passed Proposition 89, giving governors of the Golden State authority to review parole board decisions.
     When the parole board granted Biggs release on parole 18 years later, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed that decision.
     Biggs then claimed in a habeas challenge that gubernational review of his case violated the Constitution’s prohibition of ex post facto laws, or laws applied retroactively, because Proposition 89 was passed after he was sentenced.
     After a Superior Court judge refused to grant Biggs habeas relief in 2006, Biggs filed a federal petition.
     The parole board meanwhile again approved Biggs for release in 2010, and this time the governor declined to review the case. He was released in August after serving 23 years.
     A federal judge then denied Biggs’ habeas petition, and the 9th Circuit affirmed Wednesday.
     Biggs argued that the California Supreme Court, in In re Rosenkrantz, wrongly found that the governor’s review and reversal of a grant of parole was not an ex post facto violation.
     He said the court improperly applied a Supreme Court decision, Garner v. Jones, in which the high court found that retroactive application of certain laws governing parole could unconstitutionally increase punishment. The Supreme Court remanded the case, finding the Georgia prisoner was entitled to further discovery.
     A three-judge panel with the federal appeals court concluded, however, that “the Supreme Court did not clearly establish in Garner that an as-applied analysis of the significance of the risk of increased punishment is required with regard to the retroactive application of a change in law like California’s gubernatorial review of parole board decisions.”
     “The California Supreme Court’s decision in Rosenkrantz was thus not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, and neither was the Superior Court’s decision in Biggs’ case that relied on it,” Judge Jay Bybee wrote for the panel.
     Circuit precedent in Johnson v. Gomez also affirms the constitutionality of Proposition 89, according to the ruling.
     “When a state court decision is consistent with our precedent, our precedent must be taken as persuasive evidence that the state-court decision is correct; more importantly, when a state court’s application of Supreme Court law is the same as our application, our precedent must be accepted as conclusive proof that the state court decision is not an ‘unreasonable application of[ ] clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court,’ unless we are prepared to ‘reject [our precedent] as having been effectively overruled,'” Bybee wrote (italics in original).

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