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Thompson v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 31, 2019

RICHARD THOMPSON, Petitioner,
v.
STEVEN JOHNSON, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          FREDA L. WOLFSON, U.S. CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Petitioner pro se, Richard Thompson (“Thompson” or “Petitioner”), is a federal prisoner presently incarcerated by special arrangement at New Jersey State Prison, in Trenton, New Jersey. This matter is before the Court by way of Thompson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, in which Thompson challenges his incarceration past his “mandatory parole” date. For the following reasons, the Petition is denied. Furthermore, Thompson's motions to expedite his petition, (ECF No. 5), and to grant relief in his favor, (ECF No. 9), are denied.

         II. BACKGROUND AND PLEADINGS

         In June 1977, Thompson, who was already serving a prior criminal sentence, was convicted in the United States District Court for the Central District of California of murdering another prisoner. (Pet., ECF No. 1, at 2.) That Court sentenced Thompson to life in prison, consecutive to his prior sentence. (Id.) Thompson began serving his life sentence in June 1980. (Id.) Thompson received a concurrent five-year sentence for attempted escape in 1983 and a consecutive ten-year sentence for stabbing a corrections officer in 1985. (Id. at 3.) It is undisputed that Thompson's “mandatory parole” date was February 3, 2017. (See Pet., EX. B, ECF No. 1-2, at ECF p. 3.)

         Following a parole hearing in September 2006, the hearing examiner reviewed Thompson's various convictions and disciplinary infractions, as well as Thompson's progress and other circumstances, and recommended that his sentence be “Continue[d] to Expiration.” (Pet., Ex. B, ECF No. 1-2, at ECF pp. 3-7.) On October 13, 2006, the United States Parole Commission (“the Commission”) issued a Notice of Action adopting that recommendation and ordering that Thompson's sentence would “Continue to expiration.” (Pet., Ex. C., ECF No. 1-2, at ECF pp. 8-9.) The United States Parole Commission National Appeals Board (“the Appeals Board”) affirmed this decision, noting “the gravity of [Thompson's] multiple offenses in and out of prison.” (Pet., Ex. D, ECF No. 1-2, at ECF p. 10.) Further parole hearings in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015, apparently produced no change in the Commission's prior assessment. (See ECF No. 1 at 5, 7.)

         Thompson received a “mandatory parole” hearing in July 2016, after which the Commission issued a Notice of Action denying mandatory parole on the basis that Thompson had “seriously and frequently violated the rules of the institutions to which [he was] confined.” (Ans., Ex. 15, ECF No. 10-1, at ECF p. 31.) The Appeals Board affirmed that action on October 20, 2017. (Ans., Ex. 17, ECF No. 10-1, at ECF pp. 59-61.)

         In June 2018, a pre-hearing examiner recommended granting Thompson mandatory parole as of November 21, 2018. (Ans. Ex. 18, ECF No. 10-1, at ECF pp. 62-69). The Commission, however, rejected this recommendation, in a July 31, 2018, Notice of Action ordering a denial of mandatory parole and a “continue to expiration.” (Ans., Ex. 20, ECF No. 10-1, at ECF p. 71.) In doing so, it specifically referenced Thompson's murder of a fellow inmate and stabbing of a corrections officer. (See id.) The Appeals Board affirmed this decision on October 25, 2018. (Ans., Ex. 22, ECF No. 10-1, at ECF p. 78.)

         In this habeas Petition, [1] Thompson contends that the Commission's 2006 decision, subsequently affirmed by the Appeals Board, directed that he should have been released under “mandatory parole” as of February 3, 2017. (See ECF No. 1; ECF No. 12.) As the decision by the Appeals Board is binding, he argues that the Commission had no basis to reconsider whether to grant him parole in 2016. (See ECF No. 12.) Thompson contends that his incarceration past his “mandatory parole” date violates his due-process rights. (Id.)

         The government, on behalf of Respondent Steven Johnson (“Respondent”), asserts that Thompson misconstrues the “mandatory parole” date, explaining that this primarily indicates a shift in the standard applied during parole hearings, not an actual guarantee of release. (ECF No. 10.) It urges that the Commission properly determined that Thompson had frequently violated institutional rules and, thus, declined to grant him “mandatory parole.” (See id.)

         Meanwhile, Thompson has also filed motions, here, seeking to expedite consideration of his petition, (ECF No. 5), and seeking a grant of his petition premised on Respondent's alleged default, (ECF No. 9).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c), habeas jurisdiction “shall not extend to a prisoner unless . . . [h]e is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). Thus, a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction under § 2241(c)(3) if two requirements are met: (1) the petitioner is in custody and (2) the custody is in violation of the Constitution or federal laws or treaties. Id.; see also Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490 (1989). Here, the Court exercises jurisdiction over this case as Thompson alleges that his continued incarceration violates his constitutional due-process rights.

         While Thompson has raised other arguments concerning his denials of parole in his other habeas cases, there is just one issue presented in this case: whether, as Thompson has framed the issue, the Commission's 2006 Notice of Action, as affirmed by the Appeals Board, dictated his release upon reaching his “mandatory parole” date, February 3, 2017. In short, the answer is that there is not. Nothing in the Commission's decisions lends any support to Thompson's claim. Thompson seems to rest his argument primarily on the following statement in the “Reasons” section of the Commission's 2006 Notice of Action: “Although you have incurred any [sic] disciplinary infractions since 1985, your criminal history and poor institutional adjustment warrants your continue [sic] to incarceration to your mandatory release date.” (ECF No. 1-2 at ECF p. 9.) The mere fact that, in 2006, the Commission premised its action on a belief that Thompson's behavior warranted continued incarceration to his mandatory parole date does not indicate any binding conclusion that he should or must be released on that date. Instead, the Commission action represented in that ...


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