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Tarbell v. Janssen

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 30, 2019

VICKI JANSSEN, Warden, Respondent.

          Marnie E. Fearon, GRAY, PLANT, MOOTY, MOOTY & BENNETT, P.A., for petitioner Donald Cody Tarbell.

          Andrew T. Jackola, ANOKA COUNTY ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for respondent Vicki Janssen.



         Petitioner Donald Cody Tarbell pleaded guilty in 2014 to one count of criminal vehicular homicide. “The district court accepted Tarbell's guilty plea and sentenced him to 81 months but stayed the sentence for ten years. As conditions of the stayed sentence, Tarbell was ordered to serve 365 days in the county jail, placed on probation for ten years, and ordered to pay a fine and restitution.” State v. Tarbell, No. A18-0349, 2018 WL 4558238, at *1 (Minn.Ct.App. Sept. 24, 2018). “The conditions also prohibited him from taking mood-altering chemicals, using or possessing a firearm, driving without a valid license or insurance, or receiving a traffic-related charge, including any misdemeanor or serious traffic violations.” Id.

         A few months after being released from jail, Tarbell violated the conditions of his probation by driving a vehicle without insurance and without a valid driver's license. Id. “The district court stated that it could execute the 81-month sentence based on Tarbell's probation violation but instead executed 30 days in jail, as an intermediate sanction, to be served in three ten-day increments.” Id. The sentence also came with a stern warning from the district court: “Mr. Tarbell, don't be back in front of me even with a misdemeanor conviction for something. . . . Succeed. Don't be back.” Id.

         But Tarbell came back. In September 2017, Tarbell tested positive for marijuana use. See Tarbell, 2018 WL 4558238, at *1. This time, the district court revoked Tarbell's probation and executed the 81-month sentence (with credit for time spent in jail), which Tarbell continues to serve today.

         This matter is before the Court on Tarbell's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his habeas petition, Tarbell asserts a single ground for relief: “In revoking probation the district court erred in determining the need for confinement outweighed the policies favoring probation when appellant had reformed his life but had committed two technical probation violations.” Petition at 5 [ECF No. 1]. This Court finds that Tarbell's claim is not cognizable on habeas review insofar as it seeks relief under state law, and that Tarbell has failed to fully exhaust state remedies with respect to any claim arising under federal law. Accordingly, it is recommended that Tarbell's habeas petition be denied and this matter be dismissed.

         Tarbell's petition lays at the intersection of two core principles of federal habeas corpus jurisprudence. First, “it is not the province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions. In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991); accord 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). Put simply, the Court cannot grant Tarbell's habeas petition on the basis that the Minnesota courts erred in applying Minnesota law.

         Second, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1):

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that -
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B)(i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or (ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.

         “Before a federal court may grant habeas relief to a state prisoner, the prisoner must exhaust his remedies in state court. In other words, the state prisoner must give the state courts an opportunity to act on his claims before he presents those claims to a federal court in a habeas petition.” O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 843 (1999). This “fair opportunity” requires the invocation of “one complete round of the State's established appellate review process, ” including a petition for discretionary review before the State's highest court. Id. at 845.

         Tarbell sought review from the Minnesota Supreme Court following the revocation of his term of probation (and affirmance of that revocation by the Minnesota Court of Appeals). See ECF No. 24-2 at 57-67 (petition for review). In his petition for review, Tarbell sought relief on one ground: that the revocation of his probation and subsequent imposition of an 81-month term of imprisonment was contrary to the Minnesota ...

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