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Reliford v. Bell

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

February 1, 2019

ROCKY L. RELIFORD, Petitioner,
v.
J.R. BELL Warden, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Senior Judge

         Petitioner Rocky L. Reliford is a prison inmate in the custody of the Warden at the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana (FCI-Terre Haute). In 1986 a Navy Court Martial sentenced him to life imprisonment for murder, conspiracy to murder, and robbery. The offenses occurred in Japan while Mr. Reliford, a Marine at the time, was stationed there. In this action brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241, Mr. Reliford challenges the decision of the United States Parole Commission to deny him mandatory parole. Given this Court's very narrow scope of review of Parole Commission decisions, Mr. Reliford's petition must be denied.

         I. Procedural History

         The facts of the underlying crimes, court martial, and appeals are not particularly relevant. The trial and appellate records of the criminal prosecution have not been filed with this Court. Relevant to Mr. Reliford's instant Section 2241 petition are these facts. His criminal convictions were affirmed by the United States Court of Military Appeals. United States v. Reliford, 27 M.J. 176 (Ct. Mil. App. 1988) (summary disp.). At some time not relevant to this action, Mr. Reliford's custody was transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), where parole decisions for parole eligible offenses are decided by the Parole Commission.

         In 2001, a Parole Commission hearing examiner conducted an initial parole hearing for Mr. Reliford. Parole was not recommended, and reconsideration hearing was set for fifteen years later in May, 2016. An appeal of this decision was unsuccessful. Thereafter, “Statutory Interim Hearings” (SIH) were held in 2003, 2009, and 2011. The first two ended with no change made in the reconsideration date, but in 2011 the Parole Commission requested that the BOP recalculate Mr. Reliford's “two-thirds date, ” a date used to make decisions about mandatory parole. Dkt. 6, p. 4, n.4. The date was re-established for October 11, 2015. Two more SIHs were held, in 2012 and 2014, with no change in Mr. Reliford's status.

         On November 9, 2015, the Parole Commission held a Mandatory Parole Hearing. It denied Mr. Reliford mandatory parole, finding that he had frequently or seriously violated correctional institution rules (committing eleven infractions including harassing staff and assault) and that there existed a likelihood that Mr. Reliford would commit a federal, state, or local crime if released. The Parole Commission also took note of the circumstances of the crimes and Mr. Reliford's attempts to minimize his responsibility and place blame on a co-defendant. Lastly, the Parole Commission noted that while Mr. Reliford had participated in programs while in military custody, since his transfer to the BOP's custody he had not completed programs to minimize the risk of re-offending after his future release. On May 20, 2016, the National Appeals Board denied Mr. Reliford's appeal.

         At the following SIH, held June 6, 2017, an examiner concluded that Mr. Reliford's institutional infractions were not so serious as to demonstrate that he would be a risk to the community if released. She recommended that Mr. Reliford be granted mandatory parole. A Case Operations Administrator reviewed the examiner's recommendation. He added that two areas had changed since Mr. Reliford's last hearing: Mr. Reliford took full responsibility for his crimes and the institutional rule infractions, and BOP staff gave testimony favorable for parole. This administrator and the examiner signed an order with their recommendation that Mr. Reliford be granted mandatory parole, and the recommendation was forwarded to the Parole Commission.

         On July 10, 2017, the Parole Commission issued its decision denying Mr. Reliford mandatory parole and continuing his term to its expiration. Three Commissioners had reviewed the matter and voted 2-1 to deny parole. The National Appeals Board affirmed the Parole Commission's decision on November 6, 2017.

         Mr. Reliford seeks habeas corpus asserting three grounds for relief: (1) the Parole Commission's failure to follow its own rules and regulations denied him due process of law; (2) the Parole Commission's denial of mandatory parole after it was recommended by the SIH examiner and approved by the Case Administrator denied him due process of law; and (3) the Parole Commission's decision to deny mandatory parole and continue the sentence to its expiration was arbitrary, irrational, and capricious.

         II. Standard of Review

         Congress delegated sole discretionary authority to grant or deny parole to the Parole Commission. Unless there is a procedural or legal error, judicial review of Parole Commission action is limited to determining whether its action was arbitrary or capricious. Pulver v. Brennan, 912 F.2d 894, 896 (7th Cir. 1990) (citing Schiselman v. U.S. Parole Com'n., 858 F.2d 1232, 1237 (7th Cir. 1988); Romano v. Baer, 805 F.2d 268, 270 (7th Cir. 1986); see H.R. Conf. Rep. 838, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 27, reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News 335, 351, 359. See also 18 U.S.C. §§ 4206(c), 4206(d), 4218(d). Accordingly, if the information relied on by the Parole Commission is sufficient to provide a factual basis for its reasons, this Court must affirm its decision. Solomon v. Elsea, 676 F.2d 282, 285, 290 (7th Cir. 1982);); see also Kramer v. Jenkins, 803 F.2d 896, 901 (7th Cir. 1986) (“Our review . . . is confined to the record before the Commission and limited to a search for ‘some evidence' in support of the decision.”).

         III. Analysis

         Mr. Reliford's arguments focus on the mandatory parole provision set out in 18 U.S.C. § 4206(d) and the procedures for its implementation. This statute provides:

Any prisoner, serving a sentence of five years or longer, who is not earlier released under this section or any other applicable provision of law, shall be released on parole after having served two-thirds of each consecutive term or terms, or after serving thirty years of each consecutive term or terms of more than forty-five years including any life term, whichever is earlier: Provided, however, That the Commission shall not release such prisoner if it determines that he has seriously or frequently violated ...

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