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Kramer v. Salmonsen

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

May 3, 2019

DALLAS KRAMER, Petitioner,
v.
JAMES SALMONSEN; ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MONTANA, Respondents.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Timothy J. Cavan, United States Magistrate Judge

         This case comes before the Court on state pro se prisoner Dallas Kramer's application for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) Kramer challenges his state sentence handed down on September 6, 2018, in Montana's Twenty-Second Judicial District, Carbon County. Id. at 2, ¶¶ 1-2. Kramer claims the district court unlawfully denied him credit for 581 days of time served, id. at 5, ¶ 13(B), and that the Montana Supreme Court erred in denying his subsequent challenge to the sentence. Id. at 4, ¶ 13(A).

         I. Background

         Although Kramer's petition provides little information, the exhibits attached shed additional light on his claims. It appears at the time Kramer committed the Carbon County offenses in Cause No. DC 17-45, he was under conditions of a previously imposed Yellowstone County sentence, Cause No. DC 05-0685. (Doc. 1-1 at 5, 7, 10-11).[1] Kramer was arrested on the Carbon County charges on March 18, 2017 and held in custody at the Yellowstone County Detention Center. Id. at 7. It appears that prior to the arrest, Yellowstone County revocation proceedings were already pending in Cause No. DC 05-0685. Id. On April 13, 2017, Kramer's Yellowstone County sentence was revoked, and he was sentenced to the Department of Corrections for four years and three hundred and fifty-eight days. (Doc. 1-1 at 9, 11.) Kramer was not granted credit for any “street time.” Id. at 11.

         On September 16, 2018, pursuant to a plea agreement in the Carbon County matter, Kramer was sentenced to three years for criminal possession with intent to distribute, and to six months for misdemeanor criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. (Doc. 1 at 2, ¶¶ 1-2); see also, (Doc. 1-1 at 10-11). This sentence was ordered to run concurrently with the Yellowstone County sentence Kramer was already serving; Kramer was not awarded any credit for time served. (Doc. 1-1 at 11).

         In denying Kramer habeas relief, the Montana Supreme Court determined Kramer was not entitled to credit for any time served while incarcerated on the Yellowstone County revocation, because it was “not directly related to his Carbon County offenses, ” and Kramer was precluded by state statute from challenging his revocation sentence via habeas corpus. Id. at 11.

         II. Analysis

         “[A] district court shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. §2254(a). Additionally, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”) imposes a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ” and requires “that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002).

         “[F]ederal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991)(citations omitted). “[E]rrors of state law do not concern us unless they rise to the level of a constitutional violation.” Oxborrow v. Eikenberry, 877 F.2d 1395, 1400 (9th Cir. 1989). The violation of state law is not grounds for federal habeas relief. Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S.Ct. 859, 861 (2011); Roberts v. Hartley, 640 F.3d 1042, 1046 (9th Cir. 2011); 28 U.S.C. § 2243(a).

         “Absent a showing of fundamental unfairness, a state court's misapplication of its own sentencing laws does not justify federal habeas relief.” Christian v. Rhode, 41 F.3d 461, 469 (9th Cir. 1994). To state a cognizable federal habeas claim based upon a purported state sentencing error, a petitioner must show that the alleged sentencing error was “so arbitrary or capricious as to constitute an independent due process” violation. Richmond v. Lewis, 506 U.S. 40, 50 (1992)(quoting Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990).

         Kramer contends that it was error to deny him credit for time served because he was held in custody and revoked and sent to prison “specifically for DC 17-45, ” and accordingly deserves credit. (Doc. 1 at 4, ¶ 13(A)(i)). But Kramer's own documents belie his assertion that the sole basis for his Yellowstone County revocation was the Carbon County drug charge. Kramer's supervising officer, Toman Baukema, noted that prior to the Carbon County arrest, Kramer “was already in revocation and out on bond, but he keeps posting [bond] and getting out.” (Doc. 1-1 at 7.) Further, Baukema indicated that Kramer had a history of: absconding supervision, traveling out of state without permission, recent dirty urinalysis tests for methamphetamine, in addition to the Carbon County charges. Id. For all of these reasons, Baukema requested a $50, 000 bond be placed upon Kramer in the Yellowstone County matter. Id.

         Thus, it does not appear that there was a sentencing error “so arbitrary and capricious” so as to constitute an independent due process violations. See, Richmond, 506 U.S. at 50 (citing Lewis, 497 U.S. at 780). While Kramer believes his constitutional rights were violated, he has demonstrated nothing more than a disagreement with the application of Montana state sentencing law. The sentence imposed in Kramer's case is not fundamentally unfair. See Christian, 41 F.3d at 469. Accordingly, Kramer's claims are not cognizable in habeas. This Court cannot provide relief and will recommend Kramer's petition be dismissed.

         III. Certificate of Appealability

         “The district court must issue or deny a certificate of appealability when it enters a final order adverse to the applicant.” Rule 11(a), Rules governing § 2254 Proceedings. A certificate of appealability (COA) should be issued as to those claims on which a petitioner makes a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). The standard is satisfied if “jurists of reason could disagree with the district court's resolution of [the] constitutional claims” or “conclude the issues presented are ...


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