236 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2001), 99-10552, Commw. of the N. Mariana Islands v. Bowie

Docket Nº:99-10552
Citation:236 F.3d 1083
Party Name:COMMONWEALTH OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JOSEPH A. BOWIE, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:January 10, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1083

236 F.3d 1083 (9th Cir. 2001)

COMMONWEALTH OF THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

JOSEPH A. BOWIE, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 99-10552

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 10, 2001

Argued and Submitted November 13, 2000

Page 1084

G. Anthony Long, San Jose, Saipan, MP, for the defendant appellant.

Kevin A. Lynch, Office of the Attorney General, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Saipan, MP, for the plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the Supreme Court of the Northern Mariana Islands Ramon G. Villagomez, Associate Justice, Presiding. D.C. No.CR-94-00013

Before: Procter Hug, Jr., Chief Judge, Stephen S. Trott, and Kim McLane Wardlaw, Circuit Judges.

TROTT, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Joseph A. Bowie ("Bowie") appeals a judgment originating from the Superior Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands ("CNMI") encompassing convictions for the premeditated murder in 1992 of Elaudio Laude ("Laude"), and for the kidnaping of Laude and his friend, Nilo Rivera ("Rivera"). The Supreme Court of the CNMI has signaled its affirmance of the convictions in a pro forma two-paragraph decision dated September 13, 1999, but has not yet published an opinion explaining its rationale.

Bowie asks us to reverse his convictions and to grant him a new trial, citing inter alia the Commonwealth's admitted decision before the trial not to investigate concrete documentary evidence suggesting that the prosecution's accomplice witnesses against Bowie -who had been granted leniency in return for their testimony -were conspiring to testify falsely against him.

Because we conclude that the Commonwealth's unjustifiable refusal to act deprived Bowie of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

JURISDICTION

We have jurisdiction over final decisions of the CNMI Supreme Court "from which a decision could be had in all cases involving the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States." 48 U.S.C. § 1824(a). Our jurisdiction over appeals from judgments of the CNMI Supreme Court is similar to the United States Supreme Court's jurisdiction over the final judgments and decrees of the highest state courts in cases involving the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States. See 28 U.S.C. § 1257; Sonoda v. Cabrera, 189 F.3d 1047, 1050 (9th Cir. 1999); Santos v. Nansay Micronesia, Inc., 76 F.3d 299, 301 (9th Cir. 1996). Accordingly, we possess jurisdiction to review federal issues presented to or decided by the CNMI Supreme Court. See Milne v. Hillblom, 165 F.3d 733, 735 (9th Cir. 1999). In this case, we have examined Bowie's briefs in that court and determined that the issues raised here were squarely presented in federal constitutional terms to that tribunal.

We have cause to question our jurisdiction, however, because although the CNMI Supreme Court affirmed Bowie's convictions as to all issues raised on appeal, finding no error or abuse of discretion, that court said:

The Court in this appeal has decided to issue its decision at this time and to issue its reasoning and analysis upon its finalization at a subsequent date. The time for reconsideration or further appeal, if permissible, shall not start to run until the reasoning and analysis memorandum is entered and filed.

The CNMI Supreme Court has not yet issued this reasoning and analysis memorandum, apparently because of turnover on the court. Thus, the jurisdictional question is whether the September 16, 1999 decision of the CNMI Supreme Court is "final."

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The Government contends that the September 16th decision is an interlocutory order because the CNMI Supreme Court did not intend its decision to have the finality of a judgment, as indicated by its mandate that the time for appeal would not commence until the reasoning and analysis memorandum was issued. Bowie contends that our jurisdiction is not affected by the CNMI Supreme Court's failure to issue an explanatory memorandum because the September 16th decision conclusively affirms Bowie's conviction. We have jurisdiction to determine our own jurisdiction. See Milne, 165 F.3d at 735; Ferreira v. Borja, 93 F.3d 671, 673 (9th Cir. 1996).

The September 16th decision is not "final" in the strict sense of a "decree that leaves nothing further to be addressed by the [local] courts." American Export Lines, Inc. v. Alvez, 446 U.S. 274, 277 (1980). However, the Supreme Court has chosen not to mechanically interpret the concept of "final judgment," electing instead to recognize certain categories of judgments exhibiting sufficient characteristics of finality to warrant an assertion of appellate jurisdiction. Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U.S. 469, 477-87 (1975). We have interpreted Cox as enabling us to review federal issues in cases from the CNMI Supreme Court even though further proceedings are pending, when (1) the federal issue is conclusive or will survive the further proceedings and require adjudication, or (2) the outcome in that court is preordained. See Wabol v. Villacrusis, 958 F.2d 1450, 1453-54 (9th Cir. 1992) (concluding that appellate jurisdiction existed even though the decision in question was "not final in the strict sense of a decree that leaves nothing further to be addressed").

Here, the outcome is preordained because the CNMI court unequivocally affirmed the conviction and found no error or abuse of discretion. Additionally, the federal issues raised in both courts are conclusive and will survive the further proceedings.

Thus, we conclude that the CNMI Supreme Court's September 16th decision is final for purposes of this appeal.

FACTS

On November 5, 1992, Bowie and his companion Efrain Reyes became embroiled in an alcohol-fueled dispute with Rivera and Laude over a near collision between their automobiles. All four were intoxicated, and the trouble started when Rivera and Laude almost ran into a vehicle driven by Bowie. Under the pretense that they were police officers, Bowie and Efrain Reyes escorted the inebriated Rivera and Laude to Efrain's brother Mario Reyes's house. Once in the house, Rivera and Laude, who were Filipinos, were savagely beaten apparently by an array of Chamorros consisting of the Reyes brothers and Bowie's friends, most of whom were related. The attackers then tied their victims' wrists and deposited them in the trunk of Laude's car. After another round of drinking beer and discussing whether and how to kill their captives, two of the assailants, Lucas Manglona and Bruce Lee Manglona, drove the car from the area, followed closely by Bowie who was driving a company Toyota van owned by Paul's Milk. Mario Reyes was in the front passenger seat of the van. Somehow Rivera escaped, but Laude was not so fortunate. His mangled and dead body was found the next morning along the side of a road, and his abandoned car was recovered at another location -burned.

Mario Reyes and his brother Efrain were soon arrested for these horrific crimes along with Bowie and most of the rest of this band of thugs. During the criminal investigation, most of Laude's and Rivera's assailants and kidnappers were given favorable plea agreements in return for their anticipated full cooperation and truthful testimony against Bowie and Mario Reyes. John Villagomez ("John"), Bruce Lee Manglona ("Brasslley"), and

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Lucas Manglona ("Lucas") were promised probation, and Efrain Reyes was allowed to plead guilty to two lesser assault charges carrying an actual sentence of nine years in prison. Eventually, John, Brasslley, Lucas, and Mario's brother Efrain all testified against Bowie, collectively painting an evidentiary picture of Bowie's personal responsibility for Laude's death. In essence, the accomplice witnesses testified that Bowie kicked both victims as they lay on the ground, and stomped on their arms and legs with his "safety shoes" in an attempt to break their bones. During the trip to dispose of the victims, a trip allegedly suggested by Bowie, the victims somehow escaped from the trunk of the car, and Bowie, according to the accomplices' testimony, purposefully rammed the van into Laude and dragged him for at least 96feet on the road.

Shortly after Mario's arrest, Sergeant Pedro Camacho San Nicolas routinely checked him in his cell. During this process, Sergeant San Nicolas saw Mario holding a piece of yellow writing paper in his hand. When Mario saw Sergeant San Nicolas, he crumpled the paper and put it in the trash. Sergeant San Nicolas eventually retrieved the paper and turned it over to Sergeant Joseph Aldan, one of the chief investigators in this case. Sergeant San Nicolas could not shed any light on whether Mario had written the letter, or merely received it from someone else. The verbatim text of this letter is as follows:

Hey brod I want you to help me please for this prob lem that were facing right now because if they know that Im the one that did this theyre gonna put me in jail for life. I tried this before. Brah this Is what we gonna do listen carefully okay if we go to court on Thursday and they ask us questions how the murder happens and who kill the philipino just say J.J. because I already talk to John and Brasslley before I was arrested but anyway don't worry about Lucas because I talk to Lucas that don't tell the detectives that Im the one that did this things.

You know what brah, don't worry about this case because well win this just imagine four against one I I even lied to my lawyer about the incedent.

This letter was unsigned.

Upon reading the letter, Sergeant Aldan took it immediately to Assistant Attorney General Ron Hammett, the Chief of the Criminal Division in the Attorney...

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