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Watson v. Middlebrooks

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


September 25, 2009

CURTIS LEE WATSON, PETITIONER,
v.
SCOTT MIDDLEBROOKS, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Petitioner Curtis Lee Watson is a prisoner under sentence imposed by the Superior Court for the District of Columbia in 1978 who is currently confined at the United States Penitentiary Coleman I in Coleman, Florida. Proceeding pro se, Watson paid the filing fee and filed a habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, challenging the validity of his conviction, alleging that his conviction stands on violations of his Sixth Amendment right to be present, his Eighth Amendment protection against double jeopardy, and the rules announced in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), and Jencks v. United States, 353 U.S. 657 (1957). See Pet. at 5. He has also applied to proceed in forma pauperis. For the reasons stated, the habeas petition will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and the motion to proceed in forma pauperis will be denied as moot.

A prisoner under sentence imposed by the Superior Court is required to bring collateral challenges to his conviction and sentence in Superior Court under D.C. Code § 23-110. See Blair-Bey v. Quick, 151 F.3d 1036, 1042 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (§ 23-110 is exclusive remedy for such challenges). Here, it is clear that Watson challenged his Superior Court conviction by motion made under D.C. Code § 23-110, and that his motion was denied. See Pet. at 3 (noting prior § 23-110 proceeding that was "dismissed"). "An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion [under § 23-110] shall not be entertained by . . . any Federal . . . court if it appears . . . that the Superior Court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." D.C. Code § 23-110(g).*fn1 In short, this court cannot entertain Watson's habeas petition unless he also demonstrates that the proceeding under § 23-110 was inadequate or ineffective.

Generally,"[s]section 23-110 has been found to be adequate and effective because it is coextensive with habeas corpus." Saleh v. Braxton, 788 F. Supp. 1232 (D.D.C. 1992); accord Blair-Bey v. Quick, 151 F.3d at 1042 (describing § 23-110 remedy as "analogous to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for prisoners sentenced in D.C. Superior Court who wished to challenge their conviction or sentence.").

In determining whether the local remedy is 'inadequate or ineffective,' we are guided by judicial interpretations of the statutory provisions enabling federal prisoners to challenge their convictions. The federal and local statutes are nearly identical in language, and functionally they are equivalent. The remedy now available to District of Columbia prisoners was patterned after that conferred upon federal prisoners, and both remedies are commensurate with habeas corpus. That judges of the Superior Court do not have the tenure and salary protection afforded federal judges does not call for a different conclusion. "[T]he judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia must be presumed competent to decide all issues, including constitutional issues, that routinely arise in the trial of criminal cases."

Garris v. Lindsay, 794 F.2d at 726 (quoting Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S.372, 382-83 (1977)) (footnotes omitted). The mere denial of relief by the local courts does not render the local remedy inadequate or ineffective. See id. at 727; Charles v. Chandler, 180 F.3d 753, 756-58 (6th Cir. 1999) (citing cases); Wilson v. Office of the Chairperson, 892 F. Supp. 277, 280 (D.D.C. 1995).

Watson's instant habeas petition*fn2 does not demonstrate that a motion under § 23-110 is, or was, inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of petitioner's conviction and detention. Therefore, his habeas petition before this court must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Because petitioner already paid the filing fee, his application to proceed in forma pauperis is unnecessary and will be denied as moot. A separate final order accompanies this memorandum opinion.


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