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August 29, 2011

Botched Ohio capital prosecution produces split jurisdictional federal habeas ruling

The first paragraphs from the majority and dissenting opinions from the Sixth Circuit today in D’Ambrosio v. Bagley, No. 10-3247 (6th Cir. Aug. 29, 2011) (available here), tell more stories than I could effectively summarize.  Here is the first paragraph from the majority (per Judge Rogers):

This case requires this court to resolve whether a federal court has jurisdiction to bar the reprosecution of a criminal defendant when the court determines that the state has failed to comply with an earlier order issuing a conditional writ of habeas corpus.   Margaret Bagley, warden for the State of Ohio, appeals the district court’s decision to vacate a prior order and issue an unconditional writ that bars the reprosecution of Joe D’Ambrosio, an Ohio death row inmate.  Bagley argues that the district court lacked both subject-matter and Article III jurisdiction to make this ruling.  However, because the state failed to comply with the district court’s conditional writ, because the district court was acting pursuant to a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) motion, and because this clearly presents a case or controversy, the district court had both subject-matter and Article III jurisdiction. 

Here is the first paragraph from the dissent (per Judge Boggs):

For more than twenty years, the State of Ohio has displayed a remarkable inability to competently prosecute Joe D’Ambrosio.   In 1988, the state botched D’Ambrosio’s trial by violating Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), an error that later came back to bite it in federal habeas review.  D’Ambrosio v. Bagley, 527 F.3d 489 (6th Cir. 2008). Then, after D’Ambrosio was issued a conditional writ of habeas corpus, the state misunderstood the district court’s clear, binary order and attempted to simultaneously comply with both of the two alternatives it was given: retry D’Ambrosio within 180 days or vacate his conviction and release him.   After failing to complete only the prompt-retrial option, the hapless state marched back to district court and, making D’Ambrosio’s argument for him, conceded that it failed to comply with the conditional writ.   Ever since, the state has asserted a variety of confused jurisdictional arguments in both the district court and in this court, and it is now in the position where it may have to let a man it believes to be a murderer go forever free.   Whether D’Ambrosio deserves that windfall I cannot say, although, after more than twenty years of bungling his criminal proceedings, surely the state deserves that penalty.  But this is a case about jurisdiction.   Whatever the equities in D’Ambrosio’s favor, the state of Ohio — by sheer luck and nothing more — managed to do just enough to strip the district court of its power to decide the issue.  Accordingly, I would reverse the district court and dismiss the case.

August 29, 2011 at 11:35 AM | Permalink


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this idiot boggs is a nut if he thinks the feds don't have jurisdiciton once a state court has DISREGARDCED a federal court order! adding insult to injury this has dragged on for over TWENTY FRIGGIN YEEARS! it's long past time to order the immediate release of this man if the feds have to use FEDERAL MILITARY tropps to enforce it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 29, 2011 4:43:12 PM

If Boggs is right that the guy was released then he is likely right, however the majority made it sound like that was from a different case that they were using for comparison to this one to. I have no way of figuring out which of Boggs or the majority is right on that point.

I do, however, find it distressing that failure to conduct a constitutionally sufficient trial, where the rule that was failed was known decades beforehand is not reason enough to bar retrial under double jeopardy. The bar on retrials should be more than protection against retrial on charges that are actually acquitted.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Aug 29, 2011 6:36:33 PM

Bad day for the State of Ohio in court -- even the judge who voted for them ripped them a new one.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 30, 2011 4:26:05 PM

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