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Vaughn v. United States Parole Commission

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 26, 2018



          Kane Judge

         Petitioner, Ronnie Vaughn (“Vaughn”), an inmate currently confined at the United States Penitentiary at Canaan, in Waymart, Pennsylvania, filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 on June 6, 2016. (Doc. No. 1.) Vaughn filed an amended petition on December 28, 2016. (Doc. No. 10.) Vaughn challenges the decision of the United States Parole Commission (“USPC”) to deny him parole and claims that the USPC violated his rights under the Ex Post Facto and Due Process clause. (Id.) Respondent maintains that the denial of Vaughn's petition is appropriate because his claims lack merit, he does not possess a liberty interest in parole release, and the USPC's decision to deny Vaughn parole is not judicially reviewable. (Doc. No. 14.) Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Vaughn's petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Vaughn is serving a life term of imprisonment with parole eligibility after twenty years, imposed by the District of Columbia Superior Court on December 6, 1996, for second degree murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, and carrying a pistol without a license. (Doc. No. 14, Ex. 1, Sentence Monitoring Computation Data.) The factual background of Vaughn's claims would be incomplete without first noting significant changes to the parole determination process for District of Columbia Code offenders. Originally, the authority to make parole determinations for D.C. Code offenders was vested in the District of Columbia Parole Board (“D.C. Board”). The D.C. Board's decisions were guided by regulations adopted in 1985 and published in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations in 1987 (“1987 Regs.”). See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 28, §§ 100 et seq. (1987) (repealed 2000). The 1987 Regs. were further clarified by Policy Guidelines adopted by the D.C. Board on December 16, 1991 (“1991 Guidelines”). See Sellmon v. Reilly, 551 F.Supp.2d 66, 85 (D.D.C. 2008).

         In 1997, Congress overhauled the District of Columbia's government, including the parole system. See National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act, Pub. L. No. 105-33, § 11231, 111 Stat. 712, 745-46 (codified at D.C. Code § 24-131). Effective August 5, 1998, the D.C. Board was abolished and its jurisdiction over parole decisions for D.C. Code felons was transferred to the USPC. Id.; see Taylor v. Craig, Civ. No. 05-00781, 2009 WL 900048, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. Mar. 24, 2009).

         Vaughn became eligible for parole on November 22, 2015. (Id.) On June 15, 2015, the USPC prehearing reviewer computed Vaughn's total point score as points.[1] (Id. Ex. 3 at 34.) On July 27, 2015, a USPC hearing examiner conducted Vaughn's initial parole hearing and recommended a point score of points, modifying the pre-hearing assessment by awarding Petitioner a point for program achievement because he has worked as an orderly and has participated in GED, parenting II, anger management and drug education courses. (Id. Ex. 4 at 37.) Notwithstanding this score, the hearing examiner recommended denial of parole, finding that Vaughn needed “programming in order to remain crime-free in the community” and that his “serious negative institutional behavior” made him unsuitable for parole release. (Id. at 37.)

         On August 5, 2015, an Executive Reviewer reviewed the recommendations of the hearing examiner and disagreed with the hearing examiner's computation of the total grid score, stating:

I disagree with the total grid score of 2 and recommend we score him as 3 . . . Any one of his 7 DHO infractions could count as a negative point. Two of his infractions were for a stabbing another inmate . . .
Regarding his program participation, the education transcript reflects non-compliance with GED requirements and no programs since 2012. He was housed at the ADX in Florence for 3 years (2000 to 2012). A comment in the progress report dated 3-30-15 indicates he was unsuccessfully discharged from the CODE program in 2004 due to non-compliance. I listened closely to the hearing to see how the program participation was described. He claimed he had participated previously in GED, Parenting, Anger Management, and drug education, but he did not provide any dates or certificates. Again, the latest progress report indicates there is a unit team recommendation for Anger Management, but no indication of completion. His work assignment is Unit Orderly, but this by itself does not justify a program point for sustained program achievement. There is no indication of any vocational or psychology based programming. I recommend the Commission deny this point, which will make his total grid score 3.

(Id. at 38.) The USPC adopted the recommendation, denied Vaughn parole and set a rehearing in 36 months. (Id. Exs. 5 and 6.)

         Vaughn challenges the denial of parole, claiming that the USPC violated his rights under the Ex Post Facto and Due Process clause by failing to apply the 1987 Regulations and 1991 Guidelines during his initial parole hearing, and that the completion of a drug treatment program qualifies him to receive a one-point reward for program achievement. (Doc. No. 10.)


         It is well established that determination of eligibility for parole for a District of Columbia prisoner has been committed by Congress to the discretion of the USPC. United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178');">442 U.S. 178, 189 (1979); Campbell v. USPC, 704 F.2d 106 (3d Cir. 1983); Dorsey v. USPC, Civ. No. 5-1300, 2005 WL 1683658 at *2 (M.D. Pa. July 19, 2005). It is equally settled that “there is no constitutional or inherent right of a convicted person to be conditionally released before the expiration of a valid sentence.” Greenholtz v. Inmates of Neb. Penal & Corr. Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). Because the Constitution itself does not create any liberty interest in parole, such an interest must emanate from state law, or in this case, District of Columbia law. Id. Courts have consistently held that the District of Columbia parole statutes, which apply to D.C. Code offenders even after they are transferred to the jurisdiction of the USPC, does not create any liberty interest in parole. See, e.g., McRae v. Hyman, 667 A.2d 1256 (D.C. 1995) (holding that the District of Columbia parole statute and regulations do not create any liberty interest in parole). However, “[a] legislative grant of discretion does not amount to a license for arbitrary behavior.” Block v. Potter, 631 F.2d 233, 235 (3d Cir. 1980). “[T]he Due Process Clause contains a substantive component that bars certain arbitrary, wrongful government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them.” Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 80 (1992) (internal quotation omitted).

         III. ...

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