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Hall v. Ramirez

United States District Court, D. Idaho

July 31, 2018

ERICK VIRGIL HALL, Petitioner,
v.
AL RAMIREZ, Respondent.

          ORDER

          B. LYNN WINMILL CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         On July 9, 2018-following the State's obtaining a death warrant against Petitioner-the Court entered a temporary stay of execution in this capital habeas corpus matter. (Dkt. 6.) Because 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(3) restricts the authority of the Court to stay an execution when the petitioner has not yet filed a habeas petition, the stay was limited to 90 days from the date counsel was appointed, as set forth in that statute. The Court explained that once the petition was filed, the stay could be extended. (Id. at 3.)

         Petitioner has now filed a Motion to Extend the Stay, and the Court ordered expedited briefing. (Dkt. 7, 8.) Petitioner asks that the Court extend the temporary stay for the duration of the proceedings, notwithstanding the fact that Petitioner has yet to file his Petition.

         The Court recognizes that Petitioner “did not request a stay pursuant to § 2251(a)(3). Rather, he invoked Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 9.2(c).” (Id. at 3 (internal citation omitted).) That Local Rule provides that the Court “must immediately review the ... preliminary initial filings [in a capital habeas case], and, if the matter is found to be properly before the court, the court will issue an initial review order ... staying the execution for the duration of the proceedings in this court.” (emphasis added).

         However, what Petitioner fails to recognize is that this provision of the Local Rule can apply only if it is within the statutory authority of the Court. If § 2251(a)(3) limits a pre-petition stay of execution to 90 days after counsel is appointed-as the Court previously held-then the Local Rule is not in compliance with that statute and, therefore, must yield.[1]

         Thus, we come to the crux of Petitioner's argument-that § 2251 does not, in fact, prohibit an indefinite pre-petition stay. Petitioner is correct that subsection (a)(1) authorizes an indefinite stay of execution in a “pending” habeas corpus proceeding: “A ... judge of the United States before whom a habeas corpus proceeding is pending[] may ... stay any proceeding against the person detained ... for any matter involved in the habeas corpus proceeding.” (See Dkt. 7-1 at 3.) But Petitioner is incorrect in asserting that nothing in § 2251 prohibits an indefinite pre-petition stay. (See generally Dkt. 7-1, 10.)

         The reason that a district court has the statutory authority to issue a stay of execution in a habeas case is because “legislation governing federal habeas corpus proceedings” constitutes an express exception to the Anti-Injunction Act. Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 234-35; see 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (“A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.” (emphasis added).)[2] Therefore, the Court's authority to issue a stay of execution is limited to the terms of that express exception.

         Section 2251, by its terms, allows a judge “before whom a habeas corpus proceeding is pending” to issue an indefinite stay; however, the statute also explicitly states that “a habeas corpus proceeding is not pending until the application is filed.” 28 U.S.C. § 2251(a)(2) (emphasis added). Therefore, § 2251(a)(1)'s express authorization to issue a stay of execution applies only once the petition is actually filed. The immediate problem one can see from reading these two subsections is that, if a petitioner does not yet have counsel to aid him in preparing a petition in the first place, how is the petitioner to obtain a stay of execution?

         Congress solved that problem with subsection (a)(3), which grants a federal court the authority to issue a stay of execution where a person has filed an application for the appointment of counsel in a capital habeas matter, “but such stay shall terminate not later than 90 days after counsel is appointed.” The Court does not have the authority to issue an indefinite stay until a petition is filed. The Court cannot simply ignore or rewrite the statutory language, no matter how practical and desirable such an endeavor might be.

         Petitioner relies on McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849 (1994), for the proposition that a “more extended stay is mandatory” in a pre-petition case.[3] (Dkt. 7-1 at 3 (emphasis omitted).) In that case, the United States Supreme Court concluded,

[O]nce a capital defendant invokes his right to appointed counsel, a federal court also has jurisdiction under § 2251 to enter a stay of execution. Because section 2251 expressly authorizes federal courts to stay state-court proceedings “for any matter involved in the habeas corpus proceeding, ” the exercise of this authority is not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act.

512 U.S. at 858. In so holding, the Court rejected the state's argument that a “habeas corpus proceeding” could not be deemed “pending” prior to the filing of a petition. Id. at 857-58.

         But McFarland was decided long before subsections (a)(2) and (a)(3) were added to § 2251. See 62 Stat. 966 (June 25, 1948). Before 2006, the statute read, in its entirety, as follows:

A justice or judge of the United States before whom a habeas corpus proceeding is pending[] may ... stay any proceeding against the person detained ... for any matter ...

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