Thursday, April 12, 2012

Brown v. Ahern (9th Cir. - April 12, 2012)

Back in 1980, the Ninth Circuit held that federal courts were required to abstain from (and hence not decide) habeas petitions in which the petitioner sought to preclude a pending state court criminal action on the ground that it violated his federal constitutional speedy trial rights.  Sorry, the Ninth Circuit held, but we'll review that -- if at all -- at the end of these proceedings, if and when you're convicted and if and when you exhaust your state remedies.

But in 2003, the Ninth Circuit did exactly the opposite, and granted precisely such a habeas petition, holding that the state court's failure to bring the defendant to trial speedily constituted a violation of his federal constitutional rights.

So, this morning, we have a case that's factually on all fours with the latter case.  What does the Ninth Circuit do?

Sorry.  We understand why you filed your habeas petition, because you're indeed exactly like the 2003 case.  But that panel made a mistake.  It should have followed the earlier authority and abstained.  Yes, it didn't, but that was its fault.  (Not entirely its own:  the state apparently never raised the abstention issue.)  That doesn't change circuit precedent, which requires us to abstain.

So that's what we're going to do.

So I know your claim is that the state has taken unconstitutionally long to prosecute you.  But we don't have a remedy for you.  They get to take even longer, and then -- after another lengthy period -- we'll maybe tell you whether it was indeed too long.

The panel in 2003 consisted of Judges Tashima (who wrote the opinion), Noonan and Wardlaw.  All of whom are still on the court despite the intervening decade or so.  So ordinarily you'd think that there would be a nontrivial chance of an en banc call given the facially conflicting circuit precedents.

But given both the composition of the current panel -- which consists of Judges Hug, Betty Fletcher, and Paez -- as well as their understandable resolution of the conflict, I think the matter ends here.  No habeas remedy for speedy trial claims in pending state court proceedings.