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Wright v. Salmonsen

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

October 23, 2018




         This case comes before the Court on Petitioner Anthony Wright's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Wright is a state prisoner proceeding pro se.

         I. Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         After reviewing the motion and supporting account statement, I find that Wright has sufficiently shown he cannot afford to pay all costs that may be associated with this action. The motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

         II. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Petition

         Wright alleges the 4-year prison sentence he received on April 6, 2018, in Montana's Second Judicial District, Silver Bow County, for Assault on a Peace Officer, violates his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment because he did not receive proper credit for the time he served prior to sentencing. See, Pet. (Doc. 1 at 2-3; 4, ¶ 13(A)). As explained below, Wright's petition should be denied.

         A. Background

         On June 29, 2014, following an investigatory stop for suspected Driving Under the Influence, Wright was arrested by law enforcement officials in Butte, Montana.[1] During his transport to the detention center, Wright assaulted an officer. Wright was initially held on $25, 000 bail. In August of 2014, Wright's bail was reduced to $5, 000. Wright subsequently posted bond and was released. Wright v. Salmonsen, OP 18-0354, Or. at 2 (Mont. October 10, 2018). In December of 2014, Wright was arrested in Oregon.

         In March of 2015, Wright was convicted of Assault in Oregon. He remained in custody there until September 21, 2017. Id. That same day, Wright was apparently arrested for violating the conditions of his release on the Montana Assault charge pursuant to a detainer and returned to Montana where he remained in custody until his April 5, 2018, sentencing in the Second Judicial District. Id. at 1. At sentencing, Wright was awarded 251-days of jail credit which included the time served following his initial arrest and posting of bond, (June 29, 2014 to August 22, 2014), and his return to Montana state custody following the completion of his Oregon sentence (September 21, 2017 to April 5, 2018). Id.

         Following his sentencing, Wright filed a petition for habeas relief in the Montana Supreme Court. Wright argued that due to a detainer out of Montana, he was not granted “outside the fence access” or allowed into any programs while serving his Oregon sentence. Id. Due to this deprivation of freedom, Wright argued he was entitled to more credit than the 251-days granted to him. Id.

         Although the Montana Supreme Court noted there was no case directly on point, it reasoned that Wright was not due any additional credit because the Oregon incarceration was unrelated to his Montana sentence and conviction. Id. at 2-3. Accordingly, because Wright failed to establish his incarceration was illegal, he was not entitled to habeas corpus relief. Id. at 3, citing Mont. Code Ann. § 46-22-101(1).

         B. Analysis

         To the extent that Wright claims the Montana courts erred in the application of state law, the claim is not cognizable in federal habeas. Even if Wright had been sentenced in violation of state law, “only noncompliance with federal law… renders a State's criminal judgment susceptible to collateral attack in the federal courts.” Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010)(per curiam)(emphasis in original). “[F]ederal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.” Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990). Additionally, the Montana Supreme Court is the highest authority in the land on the content and meaning of Montana law. See e.g., Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991)(“Today we reemphasize that it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state court determinations on state law questions.”). The Montana Supreme Court held Wright's sentence did not violate state law, therefore, it does not violate state law.

         To the extent that Wright argues the denial of additional credit for time served constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, he likewise does not make a tenable claim. A criminal sentence that is “grossly disproportionate” to the crime for which a defendant is convicted may violate the Eight Amendment. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 72 (2003). Outside of the capital punishment context, the Eighth Amendment only prohibits sentences that are extreme and grossly disproportionate to the crime. Harmelin v. Michigan, 501 U.S. 957, 1001 (1991). Such instances are “exceedingly rare” and occur only in “extreme” cases. Rummel v. Estelle, 445 U.S. 263, 272 (1980). ...

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