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Washington v. Beard

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 6, 2017

JAMES WASHINGTON, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         The present case raises the issue of whether a convicted state prisoner who is granted a conditional writ of habeas corpus by a federal court ordering the state to “release or retry” the prisoner within a specified period of time is entitled to be unconditionally released from state custody - and never retried on the charges underlying the vacated conviction -in the event that the state does not retry him within the time period specified in the conditional writ.[1]

         Petitioner James Washington (“Petitioner”) filed this action on June 14, 2010, seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 with respect to his conviction of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, and one count of criminal conspiracy.[2] On June 7, 2012, the Court granted Petitioner's habeas petition and issued a conditional writ of habeas corpus. Following the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's subsequent appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed this Court's ruling, and ordered the Commonwealth to release or retry Petitioner within 120 days of the entry of the Third Circuit order. The Commonwealth released Petitioner, and then subsequently detained him pending retrial on the same charges. Petitioner has now filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus (“the Mandamus Petition”), requesting that this Court order the Commonwealth to release him unconditionally, and a subsequent Motion for Enforcement of the Judgment (“the Enforcement Motion”), again requesting that this Court order Petitioner's release from state custody and also requesting that the Court institute disciplinary proceedings against the Commonwealth for its conduct in this case. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny both the Mandamus Petition and the Enforcement Motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Following a trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, a jury found Petitioner guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of robbery, and one count of criminal conspiracy. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed Petitioner's convictions, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Washington's appeal. See Washington, 801 F.3d at 163. Petitioner challenged his convictions again in state court under Pennsylvania's Post Conviction Relief Act (“PCRA”), 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 9541-46. See Id. The PCRA court denied his petition, the Superior Court affirmed, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied his appeal. See id.

         On June 14, 2010, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“the Habeas Petition”) in this Court. ECF No. 1. On June 6, 2012, the Court granted the Habeas Petition, finding that “Petitioner was deprived of his rights under the Confrontation Clause when the trial court allowed a witness to read from codefendant Waddy's redacted statement.” ECF No. 19 at 7. The Court issued a conditional writ of habeas corpus, ordering the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to either release or retry Petitioner within 120 days of the entry of the order. See ECF Nos. 19 & 20. The Commonwealth appealed. On June 14, 2012, the Court stayed its order pending appeal. ECF No. 22.

         On September 3, 2013, the Third Circuit affirmed this Court's order granting the Habeas Petition. ECF No. 34. The Commonwealth filed a petition for writ of certiorari soon thereafter.

         Meanwhile, on January 21, 2014, Petitioner filed a motion for release under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 23(c), contending that the Court's stay of its order granting the Habeas Petition was valid only until the Third Circuit affirmed the Court's June 6, 2012, order. See ECF No. 35. On January 23, 2014, the Court denied Petitioner's motion, concluding that release pursuant to Rule 23(c) was inappropriate and that the stay remained in effect throughout the appeals process. See ECF No. 36.

         In an order dated April 28, 2014, the Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the judgment, and remanded the case to the Third Circuit for consideration of the applicability of the recently decided case of White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697 (2014).[3] See Wetzel v. Washington, 134 S.Ct. 1935, 1935-36 (2014). On September 23, 2015, after consideration of the applicability of White, the Third Circuit again affirmed this Court's order granting the Habeas Petition. ECF No. 39. The Third Circuit ordered the Commonwealth to “either release or retry [Petitioner] within 120 days of entry of th[e] order.” Washington, 801 F.3d at 172. The Commonwealth again sought certiorari, which was denied by the Supreme Court in an order dated April 25, 2016. See Wetzel v. Washington, 136 S.Ct. 1713 (2016).

         On June 9, 2016, Petitioner filed a motion for release from custody, as he believed the 120-day deadline for the Commonwealth to release or retry him had elapsed. ECF No. 40. On June 22, 2016, the Commonwealth responded to the motion, ECF No. 41, and on July 8, 2016, Petitioner filed a reply, ECF No. 42. Then, on August 12, 2016, the Commonwealth filed a motion for a 180-day extension of the conditional retrial deadline. ECF No. 43.

         On September 16, 2016, the Court held a teleconference regarding Petitioner's motion for release. The Court indicated that, given that the Commonwealth had not retried Petitioner within 120 days of the Third Circuit's order, it would grant Petitioner's motion, releasing him from custody pursuant to the Writ of Habeas Corpus. See ECF No. 49. The Commonwealth requested that the Court delay its order for one week to ensure that the state court was able to convene for a pre-trial bail hearing, as the Commonwealth planned to retry Petitioner.[4] See Id. at 3 n.3. On September 23, 2016, the Court granted Petitioner's motion for release and ordered that Petitioner be released from custody on September 29, 2016. See id.

         On October 19, 2016, Petitioner filed the instant pro se Mandamus Petition, contending that the Commonwealth had violated the Court's September 23, 2016, order by continuing to hold him in custody. See ECF No. 51. Petitioner stated in his Petition that the pre-trial bail hearing scheduled for September 28, 2016, had not yet been held. See Id. at 2. The Commonwealth did not respond to the Mandamus Petition.

         On January 27, 2017, Petitioner sent a letter to this Court claiming that the 120-day period specified in the Third Circuit order had elapsed, and the Commonwealth had not yet released or retried him, in violation of this Court's September 23, 2016, order. In the letter, Petitioner stated that his pre-trial bail hearing had finally occurred on January 10, 2017.

         On March 16, 2017, the Court held a teleconference with Petitioner's state court counsel, counsel for Respondents, and counsel for the Commonwealth in Petitioner's state court proceedings. See ECF No. 54. During the teleconference, the Commonwealth represented that Petitioner was indeed released pursuant to this Court's September 23, 2016, order, and then subsequently ...


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