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Medina v. Choate

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

November 14, 2017

DELANO MARCO MEDINA, Petitioner - Appellant,
v.
JOHNNY CHOATE, Respondent - Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:17-CV-00924-LTB)

         Submitted on the briefs: [*]

          Delano Marco Medina, pro se.

          Before HARTZ, HOLMES, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

          HARTZ, Circuit Judge.

         Defendant Delano Medina, who is in custody awaiting a federal trial, filed an application for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241 seeking dismissal of the charges against him on the ground that he has been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. He apparently proceeded under § 2241 rather than under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 because § 2255(a) requires that he be "[a] prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress." (Emphasis added.) He has yet to be tried, much less sentenced.

         The district court dismissed Defendant's application for failure to exhaust available remedies. He appeals, and we affirm. Although there may be exceptional circumstances in which § 2241 is available to a federal prisoner awaiting trial in federal court, no such circumstances are present here. But cf. Walck v. Edmondson, 472 F.3d 1227, 1230 (10th Cir. 2007) (granting pretrial relief under § 2241 to state prisoner, who had been denied relief by State's highest court, on ground that retrial would violate Double Jeopardy Clause). At this stage of the proceedings Defendant can seek relief in the trial court. In fact, he has filed multiple speedy-trial motions in the trial court, one of which has been denied. If the trial court continues to deny relief and Defendant is convicted, he can appeal to this court. And if he is unsuccessful on direct review, he can proceed under § 2255. Defendant cannot circumvent these procedures by now pursuing relief under § 2241.

         On its face Defendant's § 2241 application might look proper. He contends that he has been denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial and therefore is entitled to release. In the language of § 2241(c)(3), "He is in custody in violation of the Constitution . . . of the United States." But habeas practice is not solely the product of statutes and rules of court. This was recognized in one of the Supreme Court's first habeas cases. In Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241 (1886), the petitioner had sought habeas relief from the circuit court for the Eastern District of Virginia while in custody awaiting trial on two state-court indictments allegedly based on unconstitutional statutes, see id. at 243-45. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court had jurisdiction to hear the habeas petition but had properly refused to entertain it. In holding that the circuit court had jurisdiction, the Court wrote:

The grant to the circuit courts in [the habeas statute] of jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus is in language as broad as could well be employed. While it is attended by the general condition, necessarily implied, that the authority conferred must be exercised agreeably to the principles and usages of law, the only express limitation imposed is that the privilege of the writ shall not be enjoyed by, or, rather, that the courts and the judicial officers named shall not have power to award the writ to, any prisoner in jail, except in specific cases, one of them being where he is alleged to be held in custody in violation of the constitution.

Id. at 247. Nevertheless, it was proper to refuse to grant relief without considering the merits. The statute provided that "[t]he court or justice or judge shall proceed in a summary way to determine the facts of the case by hearing the testimony and arguments, and thereupon to dispose of the party as law and justice require." Id. at 246 (internal quotation marks omitted). But this "injunction . . . [did] not deprive the court of discretion as to the time and mode in which it will exert the powers conferred upon it." Id. at 251. And because the state court had authority to determine the constitutional question, the necessity of avoiding unnecessary interference with another judicial system conferred discretion on the circuit court to await further state proceedings. See id. at 252-53. The affirmance was "without prejudice to the right of the petitioner to renew his application to [the circuit] court at some future time should the circumstances render it proper to do so." Id. at 254.

         In light of Ex parte Royall and subsequent decisions of similar tenor, the Supreme Court could say nearly 80 years later, "[H]abeas corpus has traditionally been regarded as governed by equitable principles." Fay v. Noia, 372 U.S. 391, 438 (1963). For example, "the doctrine of abuse of the writ [which limits repeated habeas petitions] refers to a complex and evolving body of equitable principles informed and controlled by historical usage, statutory developments, and judicial decisions." McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 489 (1991). Absent specific statutory codifications governing the writ, such as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the approach described in McCleskey still holds.

         Given this approach, it is not surprising that a respect for regular federal-court procedure - similar to the respect for state-court procedures expressed in Ex parte Royall - has led to decisions rejecting the use of habeas corpus by federal prisoners awaiting federal trial. In Henry v. Henkel, 235 U.S. 219, 229 (1914), the Supreme Court held that a federal prisoner ordered to be removed from New York to Washington, D.C. to face a charge of contempt of Congress could not raise a habeas challenge to the removal on the ground that Congress had no authority to demand the disclosures he had refused to provide, id. at 224-26. It stated the following general rule:

[T]he hearing on habeas corpus is not in the nature of a writ of error, nor is it intended as a substitute for the functions of the trial court. Manifestly, this is true as to disputed questions of fact, and it is equally so as to disputed matters of law, whether they relate to the sufficiency of the indictment or the validity of the statute on which the charge is based.These and all other controverted matters of law and fact are for the determination of the trial court.

         The Court concluded, "[The defendant] cannot . . . anticipate the regular course of proceeding by alleging a want of jurisdiction, and demanding a ruling thereon in habeas corpus proceedings." Id., see Greene v. Henkel, 183 U.S. 249, 262 (1902) (in rejecting a habeas petition-by federal prisoners in New York ordered removed to Georgia for federal trial -challenging a Georgia indictment on the ground that the grand jury was improperly constituted, the Court said that "matters of that nature are to be dealt with in the court where the indictment is found"). In Johnson v. Hoy,227 U.S. 245, 247 (1913), the Court rejected a pretrial habeas petition by a federal prisoner, summing up: "The writ of habeas corpus is not intended to serve the office of a writ of error even after verdict; and, for still stronger reasons, it is not available to a defendant before trial, except in rare and exceptional cases . . . . [Supreme Court] decisions have so definitely established the general principle as to leave no room for further discussion." Accord Jones v. Perkins, 245 U.S. 390, 391 (1918) ("It is well ...


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