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Arias v. United States Parole Commission Warden

decided: May 7, 1981.

ARIAS, RENE, APPELLANT
v.
THE UNITED STATES PAROLE COMMISSION WARDEN, U.S. PENITENTIARY, LEWISBURG, PA. APPELLEES



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Civil No. 80-0471)

Before Hunter, Sloviter and Wisdom,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

Appellant, Rene Arias, appeals from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania granting in part, and denying in part, his petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (1976). Appellant claims that appellee, United States Parole Commission ("Commission"), denied his parole improperly and deprived him of due process of law by going outside of its guidelines in setting a release date, and by relying upon a presentence report concerning a separate unadjudicated criminal offense. Appellees, while agreeing with the judgment of the lower court, argue that the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain appellant's petition because of his failure to exhaust available administrative remedies. We agree that the district court acted prematurely on appellant's petition but find that subsequent administrative action by the Commission has remedied the district court's error. Because we also find that the Commission neither deprived appellant of due process, nor improperly denied his parole, we will affirm.

I.

Appellant entered a plea of guilty on February 9, 1977, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York for delivering heroin in a package not bearing proper tax stamps in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 4704(a) (repealed 1971). He entered the plea pursuant to an agreement by which the government would dismiss a pending indictment charging him with conspiracy to import, and importation of narcotics. On April 1, 1977, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of eight years and fined twenty thousand dollars. The government subsequently dismissed the pending narcotics indictment.

Arias appeared for an initial parole hearing before a panel of Commission examiners on June 5, 1979. The panel rated appellant's offense as "Greatest I" because of the amount and value of the heroin involved. It assigned Arias a "salient factor score" of five based upon their judgment that there was a "fair" risk that he would violate parole.*fn1 The Commission's guidelines for such an individual recommend a period of confinement of sixty-four to seventy-eight months, and the panel concluded that "(after) review of all relevant factors and information presented, a decision outside the guidelines at this consideration is not found warranted." Appendix for Appellant at 31a. Accordingly, the panel recommended that parole be denied. The regional office adopted this recommendation and informed appellant on June 20, 1979, that he was to be held to the expiration of his term of imprisonment. Arias appealed to the regional commissioner pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4215(a) (1976). The commissioner affirmed the decision on August 9, 1979.

Arias then appealed the regional commissioner's decision to the Commission's National Appeals Board pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4215(b) (1976). Appellant claimed that his salient factor score had been miscalculated and also that the severity of his offense had been evaluated improperly because of the Commission's reliance upon statements in his presentence report concerning offenses relating to the dismissed indictment, and not the offense forming the basis of his guilty plea. The Appeals Board accepted appellant's first argument and raised his salient factor score from five to ten, but declined to adjust the severity of his offense. The adjusted salient factor score placed Arias in a different range under the Commission's guidelines forty to fifty-two months, instead of sixty-four to seventy-eight as previously determined. Nonetheless, on January 3, 1980 the Appeals Board recommended that Arias be imprisoned for his full eight year term because of the large amount of heroin involved in his offense.

Appellant, believing that he had exhausted available administrative remedies, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on May 1, 1980. Appellees answered the petition by arguing for dismissal because the Commission had reopened Arias' case to consider his claim that the parole authorities had considered criminal acts unrelated to his conviction. The district court scheduled a hearing for June 12, 1980, but at that hearing the Commission failed to consider any of the new information raised in Arias' petition. The Commission once more informed appellant that he was to be held until the expiration of his term, basing its decision on information in the disputed presentence report.

Appellant's counsel informed the district court on June 13, 1980 of the events that had transpired at the June 12 hearing. The Commission responded, stating that it continued Arias' case until August, 1980 in order to obtain new information concerning the presentence report. The Commission argued that appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus should be dismissed pending exhaustion of administrative remedies.

In an order and opinion of July 28, 1980, the district court declined to dismiss appellant's petition on exhaustion grounds and reached the merits of his claim. The court granted Arias' writ to the extent that it ordered the Commission to grant Arias a new initial parole hearing on its August, 1980 docket. The court held that the Commission could consider Arias' presentence report when determining the severity of his offense pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 2.20 (1980). It admonished the Commission, however, that a decision to detain appellant for a term beyond that suggested by the guidelines could not be based solely on the amount of heroin involved in his offense. This appeal followed.*fn2

II.

The threshold question in this appeal is whether the district court should have dismissed appellant's petition for writ of habeas corpus because of his failure to exhaust administrative remedies. The Commission argues that the district court should have stayed consideration of Arias' petition pending completion of the parole hearing scheduled for August, 1980. While we agree that the district court erred in reaching the merits of Arias' petition during the pendency of administrative proceedings, subsequent administrative action by the Commission has rendered any error harmless.

A federal prisoner ordinarily may not challenge a parole decision until he has exhausted all available administrative remedies. United States ex rel. Caruso v. United States Board of Parole, 570 F.2d 1150, 1152 (3d Cir.) cert. denied, 436 U.S. 911, 98 S. Ct. 2249, 56 L. Ed. 2d 411 (1978); United States ex rel. Sanders v. Arnold, 535 F.2d ...


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