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Hackley v. Bledsoe

March 6, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)



Presently before the Court is Petitioner Wilbert E. Hackley's objection to the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Smyser recommending that his petition for a writ of habeas corpus be denied. (Doc. 8.) For the reasons stated below, the Court will overrule Petitioner's objection, adopt the Report and Recommendation (R&R), and deny the petition.


The factual background of this petition is laid out more fully in Magistrate Judge Smyser's R&R. The facts relevant to this Memorandum are as follows. On May 1, 1984, Petitioner was sentenced to life plus thirty years by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for several offenses. (Resp. to Pet., Ex. 3, Doc. 6.) On June 24, 1996, Petitioner had a parole hearing on this sentence before the U.S. Parole Commission. (Id. at Ex. 7.) By Notice of Action dated August 16, 1996, the Commission denied parole and ordered a fifteen (15) year reconsideration hearing in June of 2011. (Id. at Ex. 8.) The Commission has held interim hearings every two years since this decision and after each has ordered no change in the June 2011 reconsideration hearing date. (Id. at Exs. 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19.) Petitioner appealed the most recent of these decisions-evidenced by Notice of Action dates May 21, 2008 (Id. at Ex. 20)-to the National Appeals Board. The Board affirmed the Commission's decision. (Id. at Ex. 21.) Petitioner bases his petition on this May 21, 2008 Commission decision.

The procedural history of the petition is as follows. Petitioner brought a petition for writ of habeas corpus on August 11, 2008. (Doc. 1.) The Magistrate Judge then ordered Respondent to show cause why the petition should not be granted. (Doc. 5.) Respondent filed a response to the petition on September 12, 2008. (Doc. 6.) Petitioner filed a traverse on September 25, 2008. (Doc. 7.) Magistrate Judge Smyser issued an R&R on October 16, 2008, recommending the petition be denied. (Doc. 8.) On November 20, 2008, this Court adopted the R&R and denied the petition. (Doc. 9.) On November 28, 2008, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment, arguing he did not have an opportunity to file objections because was not served with the R&R. (Doc. 10.) On consideration of the motion, this Court vacated its previous Order denying the petition. (Doc. 13.) Petitioner then filed the present objection to the R&R on December 22, 2008. (Doc. 14.) Respondent filed a response to the objection on January 8, 2009. (Doc. 15.)


Where objections to a magistrate judge's report are filed, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In its de novo review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993) (McClure, J.). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the Court to rely on the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980) ("Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations"); Goney, 749 F.2d at 6-7; Ball v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994) (Kosik, J.). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985) (the statute neither prevents nor requires a particular standard if no objections are filed); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the Court should review uncontested portions for clear error. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F. Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998) (Venaskie, J.) (citing Advisory Committee notes on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), implementing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)).


Petitioner presented two grounds in his petition for issuance of the writ: (1) the Commission violated the Sentencing Reform Act, codified at18 U.S.C. § 3551 et seq., by failing to assign him a release date; and (2) the Commission denied him due process because he was he presumptively entitled to release after serving thirty (30) years while substantially observing institutional rules. Magistrate Judge Smyser concluded that the first ground has no merit because the Commission has no present duty to set a release date for Petitioner. He further concluded that the Commission did not violate Petitioner's right to due process by failing to release him because the administrative record reflects a rational basis for the Commission's decision.

Petitioner objects only to the first conclusion, arguing that the language of § 235(b)(3) of the Sentencing Reform Act (SRA)*fn1 clearly directs the Commission to set a finite release date for him. Because he objects to this conclusion, the Court reviews the issue de novo. Because he does not object to the second conclusion, it will be reviewed for clear error.

I. Sentencing Reform Act

The Court's review of § 235(b)(3) of the SRA results in the same analysis as that of Magistrate Judge Smyser. The SRA created new sentencing procedures in the federal system, replacing "indeterminate sentences and the possibility of parole with determinate sentencing and no parole." Walden v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 114 F.3d 1136, 1138 (11th Cir. 1997). In doing so, it abolished the U.S. Parole Commission and repealed federal parole statutes. Id. However, Section 235 provided a savings provision to keep the Commission and parole statutes in effect for a period of transition to the new system. Id. These transition sections apply to offenses committed before the SRA's effective date,*fn2 which includes Petitioner. Lyons v. Mendez, 303 F.3d 285, 288 (3d Cir. 2002).

As originally enacted in 1984, ยง 235(b)(3) provided: The United States Parole Commission shall set a release date, for an individual who will be in its jurisdiction the day before the expiration of five years after the effective date of this Act, that is within the range that applies to the prisoner under the applicable parole guideline. A release date set pursuant to this paragraph shall be set early enough to permit consideration of an appeal of the release date, in ...

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