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Thomas v. Sims

February 28, 2006

MARSHAWN THOMAS, PETITIONER,
v.
GREGORY SIMS, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Virginia M. Kendall Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Marshawn Thomas has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 wherein he asserts that he is entitled to immediate release under the Illinois Rules and Regulations for Early Release, 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3. Petitioner charges that his continued confinement violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because this Court finds that the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") correctly calculated Petitioner's good conduct credit, he is not entitled to immediate release and his petition is denied.

Factual and Procedural Background

On January 21, 1999, Petitioner Marshawn Thomas pled guilty to armed robbery, home invasion and aggravated kidnapping for ransom. He was sentenced concurrently to 12 years in the IDOC.

The Illinois Rules and Regulations for Early Release allow Petitioner to earn good conduct credit while imprisoned, credit which results in him being released before the full term of his sentence. 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3. Pursuant to those rules and regulations, the IDOC calculated Petitioner's potential good conduct credit and projected his early release date on his armed robbery and home invasion sentences as October 15, 2004. As to Petitioner's aggravated kidnapping sentence, the IDOC determined that it was subject to a decreased rate of good conduct credit, making his projected release date December 27, 2008.

In a letter to the record office at the Taylorville Correctional Center dated October 25, 2004, Petitioner challenged the IDOC's application of the decreased rate of good conduct credit to his aggravated kidnapping sentence. The IDOC refused to alter their calculation of his sentence. While this much is certain, the parties' briefs present different accounts of the judicial remedies that Petitioner pursued thereafter. On one side, the State's brief mentions only that Petitioner filed a mandamus complaint in the Cook County Circuit Court; a complaint that challenged the calculation of his sentencing credits, but on grounds different than those raised in his instant petition. On the other side are Petitioner's exhibits that show, in addition to his mandamus complaint, on January 11, 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court acknowledged receipt of a petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting the same issue and argument raised today. On March 21, 2005, the Illinois Supreme Court denied the same petition without explanation. On June 3, 2005, Petitioner filed his instant writ of habeas corpus with this Court.

ANALYSIS

Before reaching the merits of Petitioner's claim, this Court must resolve first the State's contentions that (1) Petitioner's claim is not cognizable under § 2254 because it does not allege a violation of the laws, treaties or Constitution of the United States and (2) Petitioner is barred procedurally from bringing his claim in federal court because he failed to exhaust his state remedies. On these issues: first, a wrongful deprivation of good conduct credits can constitute a due process violation and, if so, a writ for habeas corpus would be the proper procedure to remedy the violation; and second, because of the disputed procedural history of Petitioner's claim, this Court elects under § 2254(b)(2) to bypass the exhaustion inquiry and instead deny his claim on the merits. Petitioner's claim fails on the merits because the Illinois Rules and Regulations for Early Release expressly limit the accumulation of good conduct credits on an aggravated kidnapping sentence to the decreased rate of 4.5 days per month of imprisonment.

I. An Alleged Wrongful Deprivation of Good Conduct Credits is Cognizable Under § 2254

A claim for relief in a petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2254 must seek to vindicate a right protected under the laws, treaties or Constitution of the United States. Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68, 112 S.Ct. 475 (1991). It is not the role of a federal court to review state court decisions on state law issues. Id. at 67-68. Here, Petitioner alleges that the State of Illinois wrongfully deprived him of good conduct credits on his aggravated kidnapping sentence. Although on first impression this alleged deprivation sounds like a state law question, "if the government creates a right to good-time credits -- that is, a firm expectation that if the prisoner complies with specified conditions he will automatically earn the credits and be released earlier -- a deprivation of that right is a deprivation of liberty." Jackson v. Carlson, 707 F.2d 943, 946 (7th Cir. 1983), citing Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 470-71, 103 S.Ct. 864, 871 (1983).

The Illinois Rules and Regulations for Early Release provide that a prisoner "shall receive one day of good conduct credit for each day of his or her imprisonment" and "[e]ach day of good conduct credit shall reduce by one day the prisoner's period of imprisonment." 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2.1). This Court finds that the quoted language creates a firm expectation of good conduct credits such that the improper denial of a prisoner's right to those credits and early release would violate the Due Process Clause. Moreover, a habeas corpus petition is the proper procedural tool to challenge administrative decisions on good conduct credits. Jackson, 707 F.2d at 946.

II. Exhaustion of State Remedies and Procedural Default

A federal court generally can consider a petition for habeas corpus under § 2254 only after the petitioner has exhausted all available state remedies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1); McAtee v. Cowan, 250 F.3d 506, 508 (7th Cir. 2001). In so exhausting, the petitioner must have presented fairly his federal claims and those claims must have been resolved on the merits during the state proceedings, so as not to be procedurally defaulted. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 848, 119 S.Ct. 1728 (1999); Mahaffey v. Schomig, 294 F.3d 907, 914-15 (7th Cir. 2002). If a petitioner fails to satisfy either of these requirements, the petition is barred. Mahaffey, 294 F.3d at 914-15.

Alternatively, section 2254(b)(2) permits this Court to deny a petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the merits, notwithstanding the petitioner's failure to exhaust his state court remedies. Given the uncertain procedural record presented to this Court and the lack of merit to the claim Petitioner raises in his current petition, this Court chooses not to wade ...


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