337 F.3d 74 (1st Cir. 2003), 02-2325, Jackson v. Coalter

Docket Nº:02-2325
Citation:337 F.3d 74
Party Name:Jackson v. Coalter
Case Date:July 28, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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337 F.3d 74 (1st Cir. 2003)

Arthur JACKSON, Petitioner, Appellant,


William COALTER, Respondent, Appellee.

No. 02-2325.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 28, 2003

Heard May 6, 2003.

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R. Matthew Rickman, with whom Frank A. Libby, Jr. and Kelly, Libby & Hoopes, P.C. were on brief, for petitioner.

Dean A. Mazzone, Assistant Attorney General, Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

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with whom Thomas F. Reilly, Attorney General, was on brief, for respondent.

Before SELYA, Circuit Judge, CYR, Senior Circuit Judge, and LYNCH, Circuit Judge.

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This convoluted habeas case presents a tangled scenario that gives rise to difficult questions of justiciability and constitutional law. The case has taken innumerable twists and turns. It began when the petitioner pleaded guilty to a charged crime, started serving a state-imposed sentence, and then was charged with a second, more serious crime--one potentially incompatible with the first. He responded by moving to vacate his original conviction. The state court granted his motion.

On reflection, the petitioner moved to reinstate that conviction and attempted instead to raise a double jeopardy defense to the second charge. The state courts (trial and appellate) rebuffed these initiatives, and the petitioner repaired to the federal courts. The district court denied the petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus, ruling that the vacation of the first conviction thwarted any claim of double jeopardy.

If that were not complicated enough, the petitioner then struck out in a new direction. During the pendency of the federal habeas proceeding, he pleaded guilty to the second charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. After learning what had transpired, the district court rescinded its earlier ruling and dismissed the habeas petition as moot.

The petitioner assails both of the district court's orders. We agree with the petitioner that, in the peculiar circumstances of this case, his guilty plea to the second charge did not render the habeas proceeding moot. Nevertheless, we affirm the denial of habeas relief. Adhering to the strictures of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996), we conclude that the state courts neither acted contrary to, nor unreasonably applied, Supreme Court precedent when they refused to honor the petitioner's claim of double jeopardy.


During the afternoon of March 20, 1996, an armed intruder entered a doctor's office in Jamaica Plain and departed with, among other things, a checkbook. Later that day, police in Cambridge arrested petitioner-appellant Arthur Jackson while he was attempting to cash one of the purloined checks. The locales are significant because prosecutorial responsibility in Massachusetts operates on a county-by-county basis. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, §§ 12-32. Jamaica Plain (where the robbery took place) is in Suffolk County but Cambridge (where the attempted check-passing occurred) is in Middlesex County.

When the Middlesex County District Attorney charged the petitioner with receiving stolen property (the purloined checks), he entered a guilty plea to that charge in Cambridge District Court. The court imposed a thirty-month sentence (one year to serve and the balance suspended). The petitioner began serving his sentence on April 4, 1996.

One day later, the Suffolk County District Attorney swore out a criminal complaint charging the petitioner with armed robbery in connection with the March 20 heist. The petitioner first learned of this charge five months into his incarcerative term when an outstanding arrest warrant (which had never been served) rendered him ineligible to participate in a work-release program. Fearing that his guilty plea to receiving stolen property would be

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used against him at a trial for armed robbery, the petitioner filed a pro se motion on November 25, 1996. The motion sought to withdraw the earlier plea, annul the petitioner's conviction, and set the stage for a new trial on the original charge. 1 The gist of the petitioner's argument was that the presiding judge in the Cambridge District Court had conducted an insufficient colloquy and, therefore, had erred in accepting his guilty plea. See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Lopez, 426 Mass. 657, 690 N.E.2d 809, 812 (1998) (discussing the constitutional requirements for acceptance of a guilty plea); see also Mass. R.Crim. P. 12(c) (establishing certain procedural prerequisites for same).

On December 5, 1996, the petitioner was summonsed to the West Roxbury District Court for arraignment on the Suffolk County complaint. One week later, a Suffolk County grand jury indicted him for armed robbery. The new indictment included an allegation that the petitioner was a habitual offender. If proven, this allegation would require a sentence of life imprisonment. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 265, § 17; id. ch. 279, § 25.

On December 28, 1996, the petitioner completed serving the incarcerative portion of his sentence for receiving stolen property. His freedom was short-lived. When he appeared the next week at Suffolk Superior Court for a pretrial hearing on the armed robbery charge, he was detained. His detention lasted from that date (January 2, 1997) until his eventual release, under circumstances that we shortly shall explain, on July 2, 2002.

On January 14, 1997, the petitioner appeared pro se in the Cambridge District Court for a hearing on his previously filed motion to vacate his conviction for receiving stolen property. 2 At the request of court personnel, an itinerant attorney consulted with the petitioner and informed the presiding judge that the petitioner "really need[ed] to be represented by counsel in this case." The lawyer urged the court to withhold any action until the petitioner's court-appointed counsel in the armed robbery case could appear. Speaking for himself, the petitioner pressed for vacation of the receiving stolen property conviction, emphasizing that he had not been given proper warnings in advance of his guilty plea. The court announced its intention to listen to a tape recording of the plea proceeding and continued the hearing until January 30 so the petitioner's attorney could attend.

For reasons that remain obscure, neither the petitioner nor his court-appointed counsel in the armed robbery case appeared at the January 30 hearing. The court, however, had reviewed the tape of the plea proceeding and found the colloquy inadequate. Stating that "I am the one who erred, and I am correcting the error now," the presiding judge vacated the petitioner's conviction for receiving stolen property. The district attorney's office eventually declined to reprosecute the receiving stolen property charge.

The armed robbery case remained velivolant and, after several months had passed, the petitioner began to have second thoughts about his strategy. On November 19, 1997, he filed a counseled

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motion in the Cambridge District Court requesting the reinstatement of his prior conviction. At around the same time, he filed a counseled motion in the Suffolk Superior Court seeking dismissal of the armed robbery charge on double jeopardy grounds. Both motions were denied. The petitioner then appealed the double jeopardy ruling to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). A single justice of the SJC, acting pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, § 3, ruled that the petitioner's interlocutory appeal was immediately reviewable but nonetheless rejected the appeal on the merits. On October 14, 1999, the full court affirmed that decision. See Jackson v. Commonwealth, 430 Mass. 260, 717 N.E.2d 1001, 1005 (1999).

While still awaiting trial in the armed robbery case, the petitioner filed a federal habeas petition. The federal district court held a hearing on March 7, 2002, and took the matter under advisement. On July 2, 2002, the petitioner and Suffolk County prosecutors reached an accord anent the armed robbery charge: in exchange for the petitioner's guilty plea, the Commonwealth agreed to abandon the habitual offender allegation and recommend a "time-served" sentence. The Suffolk Superior Court accepted the plea, imposed the agreed sentence, and released the petitioner on a term of supervised probation. The federal district court later stated that it was not notified of these developments when they occurred. 3

On July 30, 2002, the federal district court, still unaware of the recent plea, denied the petition for habeas relief on the merits. See Jackson v. Coalter, 2002 WL 1760879, at *4 (D.Mass. July 30, 2002). Approximately two weeks later, the Commonwealth moved to reconsider the order. In that motion, the Attorney General informed the court of the plea bargain in the armed robbery case and argued that the consummation of that bargain rendered the habeas petition moot. The district court agreed; in successive orders, it first vacated its earlier merits decision and then dismissed the habeas petition as moot.

The petitioner seasonably appealed both the order of dismissal on the merits and the subsequent order declaring the controversy moot. The appeal is properly before us, as the district court has granted a broadly worded certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c).


To prevail in this appeal, the petitioner must overcome two adverse rulings. Common sense suggests that we address these rulings in reverse chronological order.

A. Mootness.

We afford plenary review to the district court's determination that the petitioner's guilty plea to the armed robbery charge rendered his habeas petition moot. See Simpson v. Matesanz, 175 F.3d 200, 205 (1st Cir. 1999); see also Scarpa...

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