United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
McCARTHY S. LARNGAR, Petitioner,
ASHBEL T. WALL, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. SMITH CHIEF JUDGE.
McCarthy S. Larngar has filed a Petition under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State
Custody (ECF No. 1). The State has filed a Motion To Dismiss
the Petition (ECF No. 7), to which Larngar filed a Response
(ECF No. 9) and a Supplemental Memorandum, or Clarification
(ECF No. 12). The Court has determined that no hearing is
necessary. For the reasons that follow, the Motion To Dismiss
is GRANTED (ECF No. 7) and the Petition (ECF No. 1) is DENIED
Background and Travel
October 3, 1997, following a jury trial, Larngar was found
guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon and carrying a
pistol without a license. After the trial judge denied
Larngar's motion for new trial, Larngar was sentenced to
a term of twenty years imprisonment, with twelve years to
serve and eight years suspended with probation, for the
assault with a dangerous weapon charge and a concurrent term
of ten years imprisonment, with five to serve and five
suspended with probation, for the carrying a pistol without a
license charge. A notice of appeal was filed, but the appeal
was not perfected.
filed an application for post-conviction relief, alleging
ineffective assistance of counsel in the trial court on May
3, 2002. The application was denied after a hearing, and the
Rhode Island Supreme Court subsequently affirmed the denial
of post-conviction relief. See generally Larngar v.
Wall, 918 A.2d 850 (R.I. 2007).
2011, Larngar was presented as a probation violator. After a
hearing on July 5, 2012, Larngar was determined to be a
violator and ordered to serve the eight years of his sentence
that had been suspended at the original sentencing. On April
20, 2015, a motion to reduce sentence was heard and denied.
Larngar then filed a motion for immediate release and/or to
set bail on the charges that led to the violation. Following
a hearing on December 14, 2016, the motion was denied.
Larngar filed a notice of appeal, a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus, and a petition for a writ of certiorari in the
Rhode Island Supreme Court. That court denied both petitions
by order dated May 15, 2017.
13, 2017, Larngar timely filed the instant
single ground for review, Larngar claims that his rights to
due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth
Amendment are being violated. (Pet. 5.) He alleges:
“Notion to Terminate Sentence of Imprisonment pursuant
to remedial statute of R.I.G.L. §
12-19-18(b)(1-5) [was] erroneously denied. All
prerequisites for release were met as a ‘No
Information' was signed and filed by the Attorney General
of Rhode Island (docketed as).” (Id.) The
State moves to dismiss the Petition “because the
petition raises only a state-law question that does not
implicate the federal constitution.” (Mot. To Dismiss
1.) The Court agrees.
2254 provides that a district court “shall entertain an
application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a person
in custody pursuant to the 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); see also Estelle v.
McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991) (“In conducting
habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether
a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of
the United States.”). Although Larngar frames his claim
as a “Fourteenth Amendment Violation of Due Process and
Equal Protection of the Law, ” (Pet. 5), it is clear
from his phrasing, arguments, and exhibits that his claim is
based on the allegedly erroneous interpretation and/or
application of § 12-19-18 by the Superior Court to the
facts of his case, (id.) (arguing that his
“Motion to Terminate Sentence of Imprisonment”
pursuant to § 12-19-18(b)(1)-(5) was “erroneously
is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine
state-court determinations on state-law questions.”
Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68; see also Bradshaw v
Richey, 546 U.S. 74, 76 (2005) (per curiam) (“We
have repeatedly held that a state court's interpretation
of state law . . . binds a federal court sitting in habeas
corpus.” (citing Estelle, 502 U.S. at 67-68));
Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780-81 (1990)
(“[W]e have never required federal courts to peer
majestically over the [state] court's shoulder so that
[they] might second-guess its interpretation of facts that
quite reasonably-perhaps even quite plainly-fit within the
statutory language.”) (alterations in original)
(internal quotation marks omitted).
federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state
law, ” Lewis, 497 U.S. at 780, absent an
independent constitutional violation, a federal habeas
court's review of a state court's application of a
statutory provision “is limited, at most, to
determining whether the state court's finding was so
arbitrary or capricious as to constitute an independent due
process . . . violation, ” id. In
Lewis, the Supreme Court stated that the
“appropriate standard of review is the ‘rational
factfinder' standard established in Jackson v.
Virginia, ” id. at 781 (internal citation
omitted), for determining sufficiency of the evidence to
support a conviction: “whether, after viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution,
any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,
” Jackson, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). See
also Lewis, 497 U.S. at 781 (quoting Jackson,
443 U.S. at 319).
sure, in his Response to the Motion To Dismiss, Larngar
asserts that his continued imprisonment because of the
allegedly erroneous and arbitrary denial of his §
12-19-18(b) motion violates due process. (Resp. 1-2, 7, 15);
(see also id. at 18) (“[T]his petitioner was
arbitrarily denied due process of law in the State court
proceeding.”). He also cites the proper standard for
habeas review of a federal statutory or constitutional claim.
(Id. at 18 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d))). The
problem with Larngar's argument is that he does not raise
a federal statutory or constitutional claim. Nor does he
challenge the constitutionality of § 12-19-18(b).
Instead, he simply seeks proper (in his view) application of
the statute by the Superior Court and release from
imprisonment. (Pet. 5 (stating that “[a]ll
prerequisites for release were met”)); (Resp. 15
(arguing that the Superior Court's “interpretation
and application” of § 12-19-18 “is a wholly
arbitrary deprivation of this petitioner's
constitutionally guaranteed liberty”)). The December
14, 2016 hearing on Larngar's motion to quash his
sentence makes the contours of his claim clear. (Pet. Ex. 7
at 5-10.) Therefore, even if the Court accepts Larngar's
argument that the Superior Court's determination that
§ 12-19-18(b) was inapplicable to his case deprived him
of due process, that argument, “as it is a matter
of state law, is reviewable by the federal courts only
under the ‘rational factfinder' rule of Jackson
v. Virginia.” Lewis, 497 U.S. at 783;
see also id. (noting that state court's finding
is arbitrary and capricious “if and only if no
reasonable [factfinder] could have so concluded”).
has not made that showing. Accordingly, because Larngar's
Petition raises a question of the proper application of state
law, not a federal statutory or constitutional violation, the
Motion To ...