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Detwiler v. Tritt

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 24, 2018

JAMES DETWILER, Petitioner
v.
BRENDA TRITT, Respondent

          MEMORANDUM

          RICHARD P. CONABOY United States District Judge

         Background

         This pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus was initiated by James Detwiler, an inmate presently confined at the State Correctional Institution, Frackville, Pennsylvania (SCI-Frackville). Service of the Petition was previously ordered.

         Petitioner plead guilty to charges of third degree murder, robbery, burglary, and conspiracy on October 18, 1993. As a result of his plea, he was sentenced on September 2, 1994 to a seven and one half (7 ½)to twenty (20) year term of imprisonment. During May, 2000, Detweiler was granted parole by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole (Parole Board).

         On July 11, 2001, police and parole agents attempted to arrest Petitioner for a parole violation. Detweiler temporarily evaded arrest by stealing a truck and leading police on a chase. As a result of this incident, Petitioner was charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment; theft; unauthorized use of a vehicle; fleeing police; reckless driving; resisting arrest; and related offenses. On April 11, 2002, Petitioner entered a guilty plea to one felony and eight misdemeanors and was subsequently sentenced to a one (1) to two (2) year sentence. He also still had twelve (12) years remaining on his original sentence.

         Detweiler was granted parole for a second time in May, 2005. On July 30, 2008, Petitioner was arrested for possession of a firearm and possession and distribution of a small amount of marijuana. After being found not guilty of the firearm offense but guilty of drug related charges in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County, Petitioner served a two (2) year term of imprisonment. As a collateral consequence of these latest charges, the Parole Board revoked Petitioner's parole. Upon the completion of his Lebanon County sentence, Detweiler was returned to State custody to serve back time remaining on his original sentence.

         Petitioner's pending action does not question the legality of his guilty pleas or criminal conviction. He also does not challenge the legality of the criminal sentences imposed as a result of those convictions. Rather, Petitioner claims entitlement to federal habeas corpus relief on the grounds that by repeatedly denying his requests for reparole, the Parole Board violated his due process rights. See Doc. 1, p. 21.

         Specifically, Detweiler contends that since he was found not guilty of a firearms offense, the Parole Board has acted improperly by basing its subsequent parole denials on his possession of a firearm. Detweiler further contends that the unfavorable parole recommendations from the prosecuting attorney are vindictive and as such an inappropriate grounds to deny reparole.

         Discussion

         Petitioner was denied reparole every year from 2011 to 2016. The most recent denial issued prior to the initiation of this action occurred on February 8, 2016. In that decision, the Parole Board after conducting a file review and an interview with Detweiler denied his reparole application on multiple grounds notably that he had an unsatisfactory parole supervision history; reports, evaluations, and assessments indicated that Petitioner posed a risk to the community if released; Detweiler's refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes; a negative recommendation by the prosecuting attorney; and Petitioner's lack of remorse. See Doc. 1, p. 36.

         Title 28, United States Code § 2241, vests the federal district courts with jurisdiction to grant a writ of habeas corpus to persons in custody in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3).

         It is well-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 Nebraska Penal & Correctional Complex, 442 U.S. 1, 7 (1979). Likewise, the Pennsylvania parole statute does not create a liberty interest in the right to be paroled. Rodgers v. Parole Agent SCI-Frackville, Wech, 916 F.Supp. 474, 476-77 (E.D. Pa. 1996); McCrery v. Mark, 823 F.Supp. 288, 294 (E.D. Pa. 1993); Thorpe v. Grillo, 80 Fed.Appx. 215 (3d Cir. 2003)(because there is no constitutional right to parole, any substantive due process claim is foreclosed); Perry v. Vaughn, 2005 WL 736633 at *10 (E.D. Pa. March 31, 2005).

         However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has also held that:

[E]ven if a state statute does not give rise to a liberty interest in parole release under Greenholtz, once a state institutes a parole system all prisoners have a liberty interest flowing directly from the due process clause in not being denied ...

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