United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
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.
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 (1987) (repealed 2000).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).
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).
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. (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.)
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
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.)
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.
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).