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Kokot v. State

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

February 7, 2019




         This case comes before the Court on state pro se petitioner Cyle Keith Kokot's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         I. Background

         Following a conviction for Sexual Assault in Montana's Eighteenth Judicial District, Gallatin County, Kokot was sentenced to the Montana State Prison for 25-years, with 10 of those years suspended. (Doc. 1 at l.)[1] In 2018, Kokot became parole eligible and made his initial appearance before the Montana Parole Board ("the Board"). Id. Kokot's parole was denied. Id. The Board advised Kokot to obtain victim impact programming and complete any additional programs available to him at the prison; Kokot was scheduled to reappear before the Board in August of 2020.[2]

         At the same time Kokot filed his petition in this Court, he also filed a nearly identical habeas petition in the Montana Supreme Court. Cf, (Doc. 1) with, Kokot v. State, OP 18-0620, Pet. (filed Oct. 31, 2018).[3] In both matters, Kokot argued that his right to due process was violated when Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert was allowed to make "confidential" statements to the Board to which Kokot was not given the opportunity to respond or defend himself and that he has a reasonable expectation of parole due to his compliance with administrative rules and procedures. See e.g., (Doc. 1 at 1-2.) Kokot requests that he be provided a new parole hearing and that the Gallatin County Attorney's Office be prevented from continuing its purportedly malicious activities. Id. at 2.

         In denying his petition, the Montana Supreme Court held Kokot had neither a liberty interest nor a reasonable expectation of parole because his crimes were committed after 1989. Kokot v. State, OP 18-0620, Or. at 3 (Mont. Nov. 13, 2018) (citing Worden v. Board of Pardons and Parole, 1998 MT 168, ¶42, 289 Mont. 459, 962 P.2d 1157).

         The Court also determined Kokot had been provided a fair hearing. Id. at 2. Under Montana law, the Board has broad discretion to consider any relevant information regarding each prisoner. This information includes: "the circumstances of his offense, his previous social history and criminal record, his conduct, employment and attitude in prison, and the reports of any physical and mental examination that have been made." Id. at 2 (citing McDermott v. McDonald, 2001 MT 89, ¶20, 305 Mont. 166, 24 P.3d 200, quoting §46-23-202, MCA (1985)). The Court observed, under this broad grant of authority, the Board was free to consider information from any interested person, including criminal justice authorities, a group to which County Attorney Lambert belonged. Id. at 2. While Kokot may have not been provided an opportunity to specifically rebut Lambert's statements, Kokot was provided the opportunity to be heard and provided with a written copy of the Board's decision denying his parole. Id. at 2-3. Thus, due process was not offended. Id. at 2.

         Finally, the Court noted that the Board also has sole authority and discretion to schedule parole hearings. Id. at 3. Kokot's scheduled reappearance in 2020 did not affect the length of the net 15-year sentence he was serving. In sum, Kokot failed to demonstrate his incarceration was illegal. Id.

         III. Analysis

         As explained below, because Kokot's claims do not survive deferential review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), his petition should be denied.

         i. Application of AEDPA

         Because Kokot filed his federal habeas petition after April 24, 1996, his petition is governed by the AEDPA, 28 U.S.C. §2254. Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 204 (2003). Under §2254(d)(1), a federal court must deny habeas relief with respect to any claim adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding unless the proceeding "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States."

         Upon federal review, there is a highly deferential standard for state court rulings which "demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 776, 773 (2010). The petitioner carries the burden of proof under this standard, and it is "difficult to meet." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). For relief to be granted, "a state court merits ruling must be so lacking in justification that there was an error... beyond any possibility for fair minded disagreement." Bemore v. Chappell, 788 F.3d 1151, 1160 (9th Cir. 2015).

         Because the state and federal habeas petitions were filed simultaneously, Kokot did not explain upon what basis he found the Montana Supreme Court decision to be contrary to or involving an unreasonable application of federal law. But, a review of the federal standards at ...

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