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Lee v. Cameron

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2014

HAN TAK LEE, Petitioner,
v.
KEN CAMERON, Superintendent, et al., Respondents.

MEMORANDUM

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS ORDER IS AS FOLLOWS:

This matter comes before the court for consideration of an uncontested motion for bail pending further litigation of a federal habeas corpus petition filed by the petitioner, Han Tak Lee. The background of this litigation is as follows: In 1990, Han Tak Lee was convicted in the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County of arson and murder in connection with the death of his daughter, Ji Yun Lee, in a cabin fire at a religious retreat. At the time of his initial state criminal prosecution in 1989 and 1990, the Commonwealth had released Lee on bail pending trial, bail conditions that reportedly included a $50, 000 bond. Lee appears to have complied with these bail conditions, and no violations of this original state bail have been reported to the court.

Lee's 1990 trial and conviction was based, to a substantial degree, upon scientific evidence concerning the source and origin of this fire, and Lee's federal habeas corpus petition challenged this conviction on due process grounds, arguing that the validity of this fire science evidence had been undermined by sweeping developments in the state of human knowledge regarding fire science in the 24 years that have passed following Lee's conviction. In particular, the petitioner has contended that the current science in this field has revealed the invalidity of this evidence presented at Lee's 1990 trial and "that the admission of the fire expert testimony undermined the fundamental fairness of the entire trial, ' Keller v. Larkins , 251 F.3d 408, 413 (3d Cir. 2001), because the probative value of [the fire expert] evidence, though relevant, is greatly outweighed by the prejudice to the accused from its admission.' Bisaccia v. Attorney Gen. , 623 F.2d 307, 313 (3d Cir.1980) (quoting United States ex rel. Bibbs v. Twomey , 506 F.2d 1220, 1223 (7th Cir.1974))." Han Tak Lee v. Glunt , 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012).

Initially, this petition was denied by this court. Lee then appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which reversed this judgment, and remanded this case for discovery and further evidentiary proceedings. Han Tak Lee v. Glunt , 667 F.3d 397 (3d Cir. 2012). That appellate decision defined the law of the case, and charted the course of this litigation. In its ruling, the court of appeals concluded that Lee was entitled to further discovery regarding his claims concerning the invalidity of the prior fire science evidence submitted to the jury in this case. Id. at 405. The court of appeals also defined standard for federal habeas corpus relief in this matter, stating that:

To succeed, Lee must show that the admission of the fire expert testimony "undermined the fundamental fairness of the entire trial, " Keller v. Larkins , 251 F.3d 408, 413 (3d Cir.2001), because "the probative value of [the fire expert] evidence, though relevant, is greatly outweighed by the prejudice to the accused from its admission." Bisaccia v. Attorney Gen. , 623 F.2d 307, 313 (3d Cir.1980) (quoting United States ex rel. Bibbs v. Twomey , 506 F.2d 1220, 1223 (7th Cir.1974)).

Han Tak Lee v. Glunt , 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012).

Guided by this mandate, we then both oversaw post-conviction discovery, and conducted an evidentiary hearing aimed at resolving any remaining factual issues in this case. At the conclusion of these proceedings, we recommended that the petition for writ of habeas corpus be conditionally granted and that this matter be remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County with instructions to provide Lee with a new trial on these charges, finding that Lee had "show[n] that the admission of the fire expert testimony undermined the fundamental fairness of the entire trial, ' Keller v. Larkins , 251 F.3d 408, 413 (3d Cir. 2001), because the probative value of [the fire expert] evidence, though relevant, is greatly outweighed by the prejudice to the accused from its admission.' Bisaccia v. Attorney Gen. , 623 F.2d 307, 313 (3d Cir.1980) (quoting United States ex rel. Bibbs v. Twomey , 506 F.2d 1220, 1223 (7th Cir.1974))." Han Tak Lee v. Glunt , 667 F.3d 397, 403 (3d Cir. 2012). On August 8, 2014, the district court adopted this Report and Recommendation, vacated Lee's conviction, and directed that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania elect to either re-try or release Lee within 120 days. (Doc. 93.) That order remains under review by the Respondents, who are determining whether to appeal this decision, re-try Lee, or resolve both to appeal this decision and then conduct a retrial of this matter, if necessary, following any appeal.

Following the entry of this order, the petitioner filed a motion for bail pursuant to Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. (Doc. 94.) The district court directed the Commonwealth to respond to this bail motion within three days if it opposed bail for Lee, (Doc. 95), and the Commonwealth elected not to oppose this motion for bail. This matter was then referred to the undersigned to set bail conditions for Lee's release, in light of the fact that the Commonwealth has not opposed bail for the petitioner while this habeas corpus litigation continues.

With respect to this motion for bail, while the petitioner has proceeded without objection by the Commonwealth to seek bail pursuant to Rule 23(a) of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, we also note that settled case law has long recognized that the power to order bail in habeas proceedings is a legal and logical concomitant of the court's habeas corpus jurisdiction. In fact, our authority to act in these matters has been carefully defined by the courts which have held generally in habeas corpus matters that the court may consider bail motions and have prescribed legal standards for such relief, stating that:

[C]ourts that have been faced with requests for bail [in connection with a habeas petition] have developed standards requiring that a habeas petitioner (1) make out a clear case for habeas relief on the law and facts, or (2) establish that exceptional circumstances exist warranting special treatment, or both. See, e.g., Eaton v. Holbrook , 671 F.2d 670, 670 (1st Cir.1982); Iuteri v. Nardoza , 662 F.2d 159, 161 (2d Cir.1981); Calley v. Callaway , 496 F.2d 701, 702 (5th Cir.1974).

Lucas v. Hadden , 790 F.2d 365, 367 (3d Cir. 1986).

Moreover, applying these settled principles, federal magistrate judges have, in the past, conducted habeas corpus petition bail hearings of the type contemplated in this case and entered bail orders in these cases. See D'Allessandro v. Mukasey, No. 08-914, 2009 WL 799957 (W.D.N.Y. March 25, 2009) (bail proceeding, habeas petition, immigration detention).

In considering conditions of release in this case, pending completion of the litigation of this habeas corpus ...


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