The opinion of the court was delivered by: WALSH
LEONARD P. WALSH, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by counsel on behalf of Jerome Bland.
Petitioner, a sixteen year old youth, who under provisions of the District of Columbia Code, Title 16, Section 2301(3)(A), has been charged as an adult,
in the United States District Court, under an indictment alleging the federal offense of armed postal robbery (18 U.S.C. § 2114), armed robbery (22 D.C. Code 2901), robbery (22 D.C. Code 3202), and assault with a dangerous weapon (22 D.C. Code 502).
Since February 9, 1971, petitioner has been confined at the D.C. Jail. Were it not for the enactment of Title 16, Section 2301(3)(A) of the D.C. Code in 1970,
he would have been considered a "child" and subject to the Family Division of the Superior Court as established by the same Act of Congress.
Two grounds are asserted in the Petition: (1) that D.C. Code Sec. 16-2301 is unconstitutional and, (2) that the conditions of petitioner's confinement reflect both a denial of equal protection under the law, and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution.
On May 21, 1971, this petition was first brought in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where it was dismissed without a hearing by Judge Norma Johnson on June 2, 1971, "without prejudice to its being filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia."
Jurisdiction presents the threshold question as regards both allegations of the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. There is no dispute that the constitutionality vel non of the statute may be challenged in the federal court. The actions of both counsel, for petitioner and for the government, as well as the Order of Judge Johnson, support the propriety of federal jurisdiction. That the respondent, Charles M. Rodgers, is a federal officer for purposes of this particular issue remains uncontested.
Habeas corpus is indeed the "Great Writ"
and it is because of its stature that it remains an extraordinary remedy which will not ordinarily lie where there is an adequate remedy at law.
The question, then, is whether in fact such remedy does exist. Petitioner, through counsel, has filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in Criminal case No. 697-71, now pending before Judge Robinson of this Court. The Court finds that such motion suffices as an adequate legal remedy.
Consequently, this Court dismisses part one of the petition, -- the challenge to the constitutionality of D.C. Code Sec. 16-2301, -- since a more appropriate manner of disposing of this important issue on the merits exists within the trial court itself.
Part two of the petition alleges that, even given the constitutionality of D.C. Code Sec. 16-2301, the conditions of petitioner's confinement are such that he is being denied equal protection of the law by being denied certain privileges afforded adult inmates. The resulting situation he maintains is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.
Unlike the first allegation, this second charge has sustained a controversy between counsel over jurisdiction. What the government proposes is that the petitioner return to Superior Court, -- where the entire petition has already been dismissed "without prejudice to its being filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia," -- and refile his rule to show cause. As the rationale for its position, the government maintains that the subject matter of the second allegation is a "purely local matter". Hence, the logic goes, Charles M. Rodgers, in such matters, wears the hat of a District of Columbia employee. To follow this course and return this part of the petition to Superior Court would, the government submits, be in keeping with both the letter and spirit of the District of Columbia Court Reorganization and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970.
This Court recognizes the overriding intent of Congress to create a largely independent local court system
as well as their concern for "orderliness which underlies the customary deference accorded to the local administration of local matters."
Indeed the Court Reorganization Act extinguishes the traditional authority of the federal courts to review local judicial actions by the issuance of writs of habeas corpus.
Of course, another Superior Court judge might have ruled differently. Denial of the writ could have been made with prejudice, after which the strict new D.C. provision Sec. 23-110(d) would have prohibited any federal official from entertaining it. However, this did not happen. The denial of the entire, -- not part, -- of the writ was without a hearing, was without prejudice, and in fact was made in a manner that pointed the way for petitioner to reach an appropriate forum for a full hearing of the merits of his allegations. Counsel's point is well taken that should this case be sent back to Superior Court in a Pyrrhic procedural victory for the government the writ of habeas corpus might be de facto suspended in contravention of Article I, sec. 9, paragraph 2, of the Constitution. The rather blithe assertions by the government ...