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Rykiel v. Montana Silverbow Judicial Court

United States District Court, D. Montana, Butte Division

July 24, 2019

NICHOLAS RYAN RYKIEL, Petitioner,
v.
MONTANA SILVERBOW JUDICIAL COURT, Respondent.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          Jeremiah C. Lynch United States Magistrate Judge.

         This case comes before the Court on documents filed by state pro se petitioner Nicholas Ryan Rykiel. Because it was unclear if Rykiel actually intended to file in this Court and because his claims were difficult to follow, Rykiel was directed to file an Amended Petition on the Court's standard form. (Doc. 6.) Rykiel timely complied. See, (Doc. 7.)

         On March 26, 2015, following a guilty plea to Sexual Intercourse without Consent, Rykiel was sentenced in Montana's First Judicial District, Butte Silverbow County, to 20 years at the Montana State Prison, with 12 of those years suspended. See, (Doc. 7 at 2, ¶¶ 1-5.) Rykiel did not file a direct appeal, did not seek review of his sentence, did not file a petition for postconviction relief, and did not petition for state habeas review. Id. at 2-3. Rykiel seems to indicate that his appointed counsel left the Office of the State Public Defender shortly after his trial-level proceedings concluded. See e.g., Id. at 3, ¶13; 4, ¶15(A)(5); 5, ¶15(B)(5)-(C)(5); and, 6, ¶15(D)(5).

         I. Rykiel's Claims

         Although still difficult to follow, Rykiel seems to allege the following: (1) the author of his presentence investigation report disagreed with the recommendation made by Dr. Scolatti relative to the level of treatment that should be required of Rykiel as a condition of his sentence, id. at 3, ¶15(A)(1);[1] (2) the 52 sentencing terms and conditions were unlawfully imposed upon Rykiel, a first-time felony offender, id. at 4, 15(B)(1); (3) District Court Judge Krueger engaged in fraud, as evidence by a May 2019 Montana Standard article attached to Rykiel's petition, id. at 5, ¶15(C)(1), see also, (Doc. 7-2 at 3-8); and, (4) Judge Krueger's purported fraud constitutes new evidence and warrants review of Rykiel's entire underlying criminal case, including the treatment requirements. Id. at 6, ¶15(D)(5).

         Rykiel asks this Court to overturn his case, or alternatively provide a new trial. Id. at 7, ¶18. He also seeks $500, 000 dollars in damages for the disregard of Dr. Scolatti's report and for the stress, loss of employment, discrimination, and the damage to his reputation and mental health that has occurred from 2014 to the present. Id. at 8.

         II. Analysis

         As a preliminary matter, all of Rykiel's claims are presently unexhausted. As set forth above, Rykiel's own filings indicate that he has failed to present any of his claims to the state courts. A federal habeas court generally will not hear claims that have never been fairly presented in state court. See, Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518-20 (1982). Also, because Rykiel's first two claims challenge conditions imposed upon him in 2015, those claims are untimely. A one-year limitations period applies to petitions filed by state prisoners under 28 U.S.C. §2254. See, 28 U.S.C. §2244.

         Additionally, to the extent that Rykiel seeks damages, 28 U.S.C. §2254 is not the proper vehicle for Rykiel to attempt to make a monetary recovery. "[T]he essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a person in custody upon the legality of that custody, and the traditional function of the writ is to secure release from illegal custody." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973). A petitioner's claim for money damages regarding an alleged constitutional violation falls outside the scope of federal habeas review but may be brought as a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. §1983. See, Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004)(per curiam); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 498-99 (1973); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 485-86 (1994).

         But, putting all of these procedural issues aside, Rykiel's claims, as currently plead, simply are not cognizable in federal habeas.

         i. Claims 1 and 2

         An application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody under a judgment of a state court can be granted only for violations of the Constitution or laws of the United States. 28 U.S.C. §2254(a). A federal writ is not available for alleged error in the interpretation or application of state law. See, Wilson v. Corcoran, 562 U.S. 1, 5 (2010); Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991); Park v. California, 202 F.3d 1146, 1149 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Although he does not assert on what federal constitutional basis he advances any of his claims, Rykiel's first two claims relate to the conditions imposed by the district court as part of his sentence. But matters relating to state sentencing are governed by state law and generally are not cognizable in federal habeas. See e.g., Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990) (rejecting petitioner's claim that state court misapplied its own aggravating circumstance statute). Construing Rykiel's claims liberally, he seems to argue the conditions imposed upon him are unlawful. But, such a claim is not cognizable in federal habeas absent a showing of fundamental unfairness. See, Christian v. Rhode, 41 F.3d 461, 469 (9th Cir. 1994) ("Absent a showing of fundamental unfairness, a state court's misapplication of its own sentencing laws does not justify federal habeas relief."); see also, Cacoperdo v. Demosthenes, 37 F.3d 504, 507 (9th Cir. 1994) (the form of sentence imposed is a matter of state criminal procedure and "is not within the purview of federal habeas corpus"). Thus, to state a cognizable federal habeas claim based upon a purported state sentencing error, a petitioner must demonstrate the error was "so arbitrary or capricious as to constitute and independent due process" violation. Christian, 41 F.3d at 469.

         But, Rykiel has made no such showing. He has not alleged that his right to due process was violated, nor has he demonstrated that the imposition of the sentencing conditions was fundamentally unfair. Accordingly, Rykiel ...


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