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Puerto Rico: Convicted Murderer Not Eligible to Participate in Community-Based Diversion Programs

By Derek Gilna

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico dismissing the due process and equal protection claims of a Puerto Rican prisoner whom prison officials deemed ineligible to participate in pre-release community-based rehabilitation programs.

Benjamin Berrios-Romero, who was convicted of second degree murder in 1993, filed a federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that his constitutional rights were violated in June 2008, when the Administrator of Corrections denied his request to participate in pre-parole community-based diversion programs. Berrios-Pvomero claimed that Puerto Rico law created a liberty interest in participation in such programs.

The district court ruled that Puerto Rico law created no such liberty interest and dismissed Berrios-Romero's claims.

The First Circuit affirmed but on different grounds. It noted that in March 2009, the Puerto Rican Court of Appeals had held that, under Puerto Rico law, Berrios-Romero did not qualify for community diversion programs. That judgment had not been appealed and was therefore final; by virtue of issue and claim preclusion principles, it could not be relitigated. See: Berrios-Romero v. Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico, 641 F.3d 24 (C.A. 1 (Puerto Rico), 2011).

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Related legal case

Berrios-Romero v. Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico