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United States v. Pashuta

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 18, 2014



MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

The Defendant is detained in federal custody while facing drug and weapons charges in this Court. ECF No. 3, 14, 17, 18. Now, word comes that he faces Pennsylvania state charges for involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and related offenses as to a minor. Consistent with state law, a preliminary hearing will occur on Friday, June 20, 2014, on those state charges in order to test their sufficiency and determine if the Defendant will be held for trial pursuant to them. The state court has issued a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum, directed to the United States Marshal for the Defendant's attendance at that preliminary hearing.[1]

The United States advises the Court that consistent with normal practice, the Marshal would honor that request and transfer the Defendant to state officials for that hearing (apparently necessitating the Defendant's spending at least some time at the Allegheny County Jail, where the Marshal also routinely houses some federal prisoners), and then return him to the Marshal's custody. The Defendant, however, now says "not so fast" and that such a transfer may only occur if a federal judge (presumably an Article III judge) pennits it.[2] He therefore moves to strike the Notice filed by the United States of that contemplated transfer, to stay any such movement, and to order the United States to show cause why such transfer should be allowed. ECF No. 39.

The Defendant argues that although since the decision of the Supreme Court in Ponzi v. Fessenden, 258 U.S. 254 (1922)[3], such matters of reciprocity of custody for court appearances when criminal proceedings are engaged in both state and federal jurisdictions have been entrusted to the sound discretion of the Executive Branch in furtherance of the notion of comity in our federal system of dual sovereigns, the Bail Refonn Act of 1984 ("BRA"), 18 U.S.c. § 3141, et seq., changed the rules. According to the Defendant, now (and if his argument is taken at face value, really for the past 30 years since the BRA was passed) such inter-jurisdictional cooperation is not automatic or a matter of Executive discretion, and in each and every case in which there are pending, parallel federal and state criminal proceedings in which there is not yet a conviction, and where the defendant is detained in federal pretrial custody, an Article III judge must pass on the propriety of all such cooperative transfers before they occur.[4]

In furtherance of this argument, the Defendant asks this Court to enter an Order staying any transfer to temporary state custody for purposes of the Defendant's attendance at the preliminary hearing on the state sex assault charges, to strike the Notice of the United States of such impending transfer, and to issue a Rule to Show Cause as to such proposed transfer.[5] Because this Court cannot conclude that federal law requires it to approve in advance any such action by the United States acting through the United States Marshal, and that if it did, the Court would on the record before it approve such actions on the terms set forth herein, the Motion is denied.[6]

The Court has conducted two status conferences with counsel on this matter. At the most recent conference of June 16, 2014, when asked what (if any) prejudice could befall the Defendant if he was taken to state court for the preliminary hearing, his counsel could only point to the fact that if the state prosecution moved along more quickly than the federal proceedings, and ended up in a conviction in state court, it could result in the Defendant having a higher Advisory Sentencing Guidelines "score" for federal sentencing purposes. While that might not be a good thing from where the Defendant sits, that is not legal "prejudice" for these purposes. Any such potential bad news for the Defendant would not be the result of some Constitutional irregularity in legal proceedings, but of his own criminal conduct, if such conduct were proven in state court.

Defendant also says that since the BRA, a defendant now has a protectable legal interest in where and how he is confined once there is a federal pre-trial detention order entered.[7] In spite of some really deep digging, this Court has been able to find absolutely no case law that would support such a principle, and none has been cited by the Defendant. The legislative history of the BRA does not support that views[8], and since Ponzi, the case law is uniform that a Defendant simply has no standing to call into question the conduct of the Executive Branch in its cooperation with a state sovereign in managing the Defendant's pretrial attendance at state or federal proceedings.[9] The Court can find nothing in the BRA or post-1984 case law that reveals, in intention or effect, any Congressional change to that more than ninety-year old rule of law.[10]

The Defendant points to the language of 18 U.S.c. § 3142(i) for the proposition that such standing should now be assumed, since that provision authorizes a federal judge to temporarily release a defendant for purposes of preparing his defense or other "compelling" reasons. The legislative history is silent on the purpose of that provision, but taken at face value, that language is not a limitation on the power of the Executive Branch to abide by nearly a century of "comity" principles based on our federal system. Instead, it is a "safety valve" authorizing a federal judge to release a defendant otherwise in pre-trial detention for purposes of his own defense, notwithstanding that he had been detained under the BRA.

The Defendant makes a well-reasoned legislation-based policy argument in reliance on the BRA that carnes some considerable logic. In sum, he argues that the BRA is a comprehensive Congressional enactment that addresses all phases of the pre-trial custody process, one in which on-going judicial engagement is both anticipated and directed. He notes that his pre-trial federal custody is in direct consequence of the motion of the United States for such federal custody, and the structure of the BRA is such that it can only be logically read as providing for on-going federal judicial supervision of at least that custody status. He notes, among other things, that the fact of such pre-trial custody is open for further judicial consideration at any time in the process, that if no custody is ordered or is later vacated, the terms of pre-trial release are within judicial as opposed to Executive Branch control, and that the overarching directive of the BRA is one that has judicial supervision as its foundation.

That said, given the silence of the language of the BRA and its legislative history as to any effort to alter the effect of the Ponzi rule, along with the line of post-BRA cases applying those principles, even in the pre-trial setting, and casting no doubt upon its application or vitality for BRA reasons or otherwise, the Court does not conclude that the BRA altered those comity and federalism principles in the manner posited by the Defendant.[11]

First, there is nothing about the Defendant's contemplated appearance at the state court preliminary hearing that would necessarily result in his literal release from federal custody. An examination of the terms of the state court writ, ECF No. 39-1, also reveals that it does not facially "order" or seek the Defendant's "release" from federal custody. Instead, it "directs" that the Marshal keep the Defendant in the Marshal's custody at his current place of detention (the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, or "NEOCC"), that the Marshal "produce" the Defendant at the state municipal court for his preliminary hearing, and that the Defendant be lodged at the Allegheny County Jail without bail until he is "returned" to the Marshal and then to NEOCe. The writ ends by saying that custody is to be "obtained" on or about June 19, 2014.

To the extent that the Defendant contends that because a federal judge has ordered his federal pre-trial detention, at the behest of the United States, only a federal judge can alter that state of detention, there is a certain logic to his argument, on both BRA and Supremacy Clause grounds. On the other hand, on the facts of the situation, given that the Marshal currently houses defendants on pre-trial detention at not only the NEOCC, but also the Allegheny County Jail, the writ, if honored by the Marshal, can also be fairly read as "asking" the Marshal to do several things. First, to keep the Defendant at NEOCC and don't let him out, making the writ in effect a form of a detainer if the Defendant was to be otherwise imminently released by federal court order. Second, to bring the Defendant to the state court facility for his preliminary hearing, by "producing" him at that place and time. Lastly, it states that he would be at the Allegheny County Jail and promises to have him there "without bail" which would certainly be consistent with his custodial state.

What complicates the matter is the reference in the writ to the Defendant being returned to NEOCC by the Allegheny County Sheriffs. That verbiage, if honored literally by the Marshal, would seem to contemplate that for some period of time, the Defendant will be outside of the federal custody ordered by this Court. On the one hand, if the Marshal "honors" the state's request by maintaining "federal" custody of the Defendant, but in doing so, transports him to state court, houses him (if necessary at all) in the "federal" section of the County Jail, and then takes him back to NEOCC, it would seem to the Court that his "federal" custody status would not change; only the physical location of that custody would. On the other hand, if the Marshal elects to "honor" the state court writ by physically turning the Defendant over to the state authorities, the issue is raised, and appears to be raised by the Defendant, as to whether that is so fundamentally inconsistent with the BRA and court orders under it so as to require advance judicial approval.

The Court thinks not. While from the Court's perspective, the United States can pretty easily avoid that whole issue by maintaining constant federal control over the Defendant, should it elect to not do so, that would nonetheless appear to be consistent with the Ponzi doctrine, and the subsequent cases relying upon it. Whether the Defendant's custody is pre- or post-conviction, either way, he is in federal custody by virtue of a federal judicial order, and as noted above, this Court can divine no express or implicit effort by Congress to abrogate the application of the Ponzi doctrine in a pre-conviction BRA setting or otherwise. Thus, while the United States, and the Marshal, remain at all times responsible under the law, and to this Court, for the detention and well-being of the Defendant and his safe and sure custody and movement, Ponzi appears to continue to ...

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