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Norris v. United States

June 7, 2007


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (No. F-75047-77) (Hon. Russell F. Canan, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glickman, Associate Judge

Submitted December 13, 2005

Before GLICKMAN and KRAMER, Associate Judges, and STEADMAN, Senior Judge.

Rudolph V. Norris seeks to have his 1978 robbery conviction set aside in accordance with the Federal Youth Correction Act ("FYCA" or the "Youth Act"),*fn1 on the ground that he was unconditionally discharged from custody before his maximum sentence expired. Construing Norris's pro se pleading as either a claim for relief under D.C. Code § 23-110 (2001) or a habeas corpus petition under D.C. Code § 16-1901 (2001), the trial court dismissed the action without reaching the merits. We reverse the dismissal and remand for further proceedings.


Norris was convicted in 1978 of one count of robbery in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. On May 24, 1978, he was committed under FYCA to the custody of the Attorney General for a maximum of six years pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 5010 (b) and 5017 (c).*fn2 This sentence offered Norris the possibility of earning a "return-ticket" from his criminal conviction, United States v. Robinson, 232 U.S. App. D.C. 28, 30, 720 F.2d 203, 205 (1983), because 18 U.S.C. § 5021 (a) provided that if Norris received an unconditional discharge before his maximum sentence expired, his conviction automatically would be "set aside" and he would be issued "a certificate to that effect." See Dorszynski v. United States, 418 U.S. 424, 435 (1974). "[T]he prospect of obtaining a certificate setting aside his conviction" was deemed "[a] particularly valuable benefit for the offender sentenced under" the FYCA. Durst v. United States, 434 U.S. 542, 548 (1978). The authority to discharge a youth offender sentenced under § 5010 (b), and to issue the set-aside certificate, was lodged by the statute in the United States Parole Commission; however, for youths such as Norris, who were sentenced in Superior Court, that authority was delegated to the District of Columbia Parole Board. See Boxley v. Rodgers, 129 U.S. App. D.C. 408, 410 n.3, 395 F.2d 631, 633 n.3 (1968).

In 1992, years after he completed his Youth Act sentence, Norris was convicted of narcotics distribution offenses in both the Superior Court and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Based on his 1978 robbery conviction and his 1992 Superior Court conviction, the District Court found Norris to be a "career offender" under the United States Sentencing Guidelines and sentenced him to a thirty-year prison term. Norris is still incarcerated under that federal sentence.*fn3

In 1998, Norris moved the Superior Court to set aside his twenty-year-old robbery conviction. Norris claimed that he had been discharged unconditionally before his six-year maximum sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 5010 (b) had expired, but the Parole Board had not issued the certificate setting aside his conviction to which he was entitled under § 5021 (a). (Not until his federal sentencing in 1992, Norris asserted, did he become aware that his robbery conviction was still on his record. Norris has not explained why he waited an additional six years to complain about it.) The Superior Court denied Norris's set-aside motion, and on March 3, 2000, this court affirmed that denial in an unpublished decision, essentially on the ground that Norris had not yet exhausted his administrative remedies by requesting relief from the Parole Board. Our opinion, therefore, dismissed Norris's appeal "without prejudice to his seeking relief from the appropriate authority and subsequent judicial review of its action if necessary and proper." Norris v. United States, Nos. 98-CO-1590, 98-CO-1852 (D.C. March 3, 2000) ("Norris I").

On March 30, 2000, in compliance with our opinion in Norris I, Norris requested the United States Parole Commission to set aside his robbery conviction.*fn4 The Commission failed to respond, so on May 8, 2001, Norris sought judicial intervention, filing what he captioned a "Motion for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, Per § 23-110" in Superior Court. With its opposition to that motion, the government submitted an affidavit averring that "[n]either in the [United States Parole] Commission's own files and records, nor in the files and records transferred to the Commission from the D.C. Board of Parole, is there any indication of the existence of a D.C. Board of Parole or U.S. Parole Commission file concerning [Norris]." Once again the Superior Court denied relief and, on December 31, 2002, this court affirmed that denial and dismissed Norris's appeal in an unpublished opinion. We held that because Norris was no longer serving a sentence for his 1978 robbery conviction, he was no longer "in custody" for purposes of D.C. Code § 23-110.*fn5 See Thomas v. United States, 766 A.2d 50, 51 (D.C. 2001) ("[A] prisoner who has fully served a Superior Court sentence is not 'in custody' within the meaning of § 23-110 merely because that sentence has been used to enhance a sentence for a subsequent conviction."). Accordingly, we concluded, "because [Norris] filed his petition pursuant to § 23-110, neither the trial court nor this court has jurisdiction to entertain his claims." Norris v. Simpson, No. 02-SP-374 (D.C. Dec. 31, 2002) ("Norris II").

A year after our decision in Norris II, in December 2003, Norris again requested the Parole Commission to set aside his 1978 robbery conviction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 5021. In a puzzling response, the Commission did not address Norris's 1978 conviction at all. Instead, claiming that it had retrieved Norris's file "from storage," the Commission stated that Norris was still on parole from a 1972 (not 1978) Youth Act sentence when he was convicted of burglary (not robbery) in 1979 (again, not 1978), at which point his parole was revoked and he was ordered to serve out his full Youth Act sentence (i.e., he was not discharged before the expiration of his maximum term). (The letter did not explain how Norris was still on parole more than six years after his Youth Act sentence was imposed.) Norris contends that the Commission confused his criminal record with that of someone else; that contention remains unresolved, but on the sparse record before us, we think it may be plausible.

After he received the Parole Commission's response, Norris filed a pro se pleading in Superior Court, which he labeled a "Habeas Pitition [sic] for Reconsider of Denial of Appeal from the Appeals Court of the District of Columbia Special Proceeding Section." The pleading named the Parole Commission, its chairman, and a commissioner as respondents, and asserted inter alia that Norris's 1978 robbery conviction was required to be set aside pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 5021 (a). In seeking to have the denials of his previous motions reversed and his conviction set aside, Norris explained that he needed the certificate contemplated by the Youth Act in order to apply for relief from his federal sentence, which had been enhanced on the basis of his 1978 conviction.*fn6

The trial court disposed of Norris's petition without requesting a response from the government or setting the petition down for a hearing. The court held, first, that it had no jurisdiction to review this Court's decisions in Norris I and Norris II. See D.C. Code § 11-102 (2001). Second, construing the petition before it as a § 23-110 motion, the court denied it because Norris was not "in custody," see Thomas, supra, and because the motion was successive (§ 23-110 (e) states that "[t]he court shall not be required to entertain a second or successive motion for similar relief on behalf of the same prisoner"). Third, construing Norris's pleading in the alternative as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under D.C. Code § 16-1901 (2001), the court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction. Because Norris was incarcerated at the Federal Corrections Complex in Petersburg, Virginia, the court stated that he should have filed his habeas petition in the federal district court for the district in which Petersburg is located. See Taylor v. Washington, 808 A.2d 770, 772 (D.C. 2002) (holding that where a habeas petitioner is imprisoned outside the District of Columbia, the Superior Court cannot entertain the petition because it does not have personal jurisdiction over the petitioner's custodian); accord, Knight v. United States, 892 A.2d 1096, 1098 (D.C. 2006); United States v. Crockett, 861 A.2d 604, 608 (D.C. 2004).

This appeal ...

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