620 F.3d 321 (3rd Cir. 2010), 08-2694, Government of Virgin Islands v. Martinez

Docket Nº:08-2694.
Citation:620 F.3d 321
Opinion Judge:CHAGARES, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Government of the VIRGIN ISLANDS v. Kwanza MARTINEZ, Appellant.
Attorney:Martial A Webster, Sr., Esq., St. Croix, V.I., for Appellant. Tiffany V. Robinson, Esq., Office of the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, VI, for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before SMITH, CHAGARES, and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:September 08, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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620 F.3d 321 (3rd Cir. 2010)

Government of the VIRGIN ISLANDS


Kwanza MARTINEZ, Appellant.

No. 08-2694.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

September 8, 2010

Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) May 4, 2010.

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Martial A Webster, Sr., Esq., St. Croix, V.I., for Appellant.

Tiffany V. Robinson, Esq., Office of the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, VI, for Appellee.

Before SMITH, CHAGARES, and JORDAN, Circuit Judges.


CHAGARES, Circuit Judge.

Kwanza Martinez was convicted in the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands of kidnapping for rape, and he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. The Appellate Division of the District Court of the Virgin Islands affirmed the conviction. Three months later, Martinez filed a notice of appeal in this Court. Concluding that the Government has forfeited its ability to attack the appeal as untimely pursuant to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b), we exercise jurisdiction. Because we reject Martinez's claims on the merits, we will affirm the order of the Appellate Division.


Taken in the light most favorable to the Government, the pertinent facts are as follows. On the night of June 16, 2003, Chenae Harvey, who was then sixteen, left her home in the Harbor View housing community on the island of St. Croix. In a nearby parking lot, she bumped into Martinez, her first cousin, who was then twenty-one. Harvey entered Martinez's car voluntarily, expecting that he would drive her to her friend Amanda's apartment, also located in Harbor View. Instead, Martinez unexpectedly passed Amanda's apartment at a high rate of speed, and Harvey quickly realized that he did not intend to take her there. Harvey asked Martinez where he was taking her, but he did not answer. She twice asked him to take her home, but again he was unresponsive. When they reached the Princesse area, Harvey began to cry, and screamed to Martinez that she wanted to go home. Yet again, he did not respond. Finally, Harvey grabbed the steering wheel in an attempt to stop the car. At that point, Martinez ordered Harvey not to grab the wheel, and said that he had a gun in the car and did not want to be stopped by the police. Martinez then removed a firearm from the glove compartment and placed it in his lap. The gun remained present for the duration of the encounter.

Martinez's excessive speed caused Harvey to be " afraid [for her] life." Joint Appendix (" JA" ) 152. He continued his frenetic pace until he reached a desolate area past the Salt River, 10.8 miles from Harbor View. Martinez drove up a steep hill known as " The Beast," turned the car around at a dead end so that it faced down the hill, and turned off the lights. With the gun still in his lap, Martinez then demanded that Harvey have sex with him. She declined, stating, " No, I don't want to have sex with you because you is my cousin." Id. When she did not acquiesce, Martinez ordered Harvey out of the car and sped away.

Five minutes later, Martinez returned, at which time Harvey opened the rear passenger door and reentered the car. It is undisputed that at some point thereafter, Martinez and Harvey engaged in sexual intercourse. The nature of the sexual encounter, however, is vigorously disputed: Martinez claimed that it was consensual, and Harvey alleged that it was not. In any event, whatever happened in fact is not critical to resolution of this appeal.

The record is not entirely clear how long the episode lasted, but it appears to have

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taken place over a period of about an hour. Two days later, Harvey told her mother, Faye Martinez (who is the defendant's aunt), about the incident, and her mother then took her to the hospital. Harvey gave a statement to police officers at the hospital, after which the officers recovered her undergarments. Analysis on the clothing tested positive for DNA consistent with Martinez's.

Martinez was arrested on July 9, 2003, and was charged in a six-count criminal information with aggravated rape in the first degree (in violation of V.I.Code Ann. tit. 14, § 1700); aggravated rape in the second degree (in violation of V.I.Code Ann. tit. 14, § 1700a); kidnapping for rape (in violation of V.I.Code Ann. tit. 14, § 1052(b)); two counts of unlawful sexual contact in the first degree (in violation of V.I.Code Ann. tit. 14, § 1708); and possession of a deadly weapon during a crime of violence (in violation of V.I.Code Ann. tit. 14, § 2251(a)). Martinez did not dispute that he had sexual intercourse with Harvey, but claimed that the encounter had been entirely consensual. After a three-day trial, the jury convicted him of kidnapping for rape (Count Three), but acquitted him of the other charges. 1 The trial court sentenced him to thirty years in prison. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction, and this appeal followed.


We first consider our jurisdiction. The Appellate Division exercised appellate jurisdiction under 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(a), and entered its order affirming the conviction on February 27, 2008. On May 20, 2008, the Appellate Division entered on its docket a handwritten letter from Martinez, dated May 15, 2008, in which he averred that he had only recently learned that his conviction had been affirmed. He explained that his attorney had been disbarred and had not forwarded him a copy of the Appellate Division's opinion and order. The court appointed new counsel, who filed a notice of appeal on June 10, 2008, 104 days after entry of the Appellate Division's final order.

On June 17, 2008, the Clerk of this Court issued an order (1) advising the parties that we may lack appellate jurisdiction, and (2) directing them to file responses addressing the issue. The Government did not file a response (and has never addressed the jurisdictional issue in this Court); Martinez filed a response through counsel. A motions panel thereafter referred the issue to this merits panel to consider whether the time limitation in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(b) is a jurisdictional requirement, or a claim-processing rule subject to forfeiture.

" The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure govern appeals to our [C]ourt from the District Court of the Virgin Islands[, Appellate Division]. Therefore, the time limits for the filing of a notice of appeal in a criminal case are those set out in Fed. R.App. P. 4(b)." Gov't of the V.I. v. Charleswell, 24 F.3d 571, 575 (3d Cir.1994) (citation and footnote omitted). Rule 4(b) required Martinez to file a notice of appeal within ten days of the entry of the Appellate Division's final order.2 It is undisputed that he did not do so. Our decisions have repeatedly noted that the failure to file a timely notice of appeal in a criminal case deprives us of appellate jurisdiction. See, e.g., United States v. Carelock, 459 F.3d 437, 440-43 (3d Cir.2006);

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United States v. Kress, 944 F.2d 155, 161 (3d Cir.1991); United States v. Vastola, 899 F.2d 211, 220 (3d Cir.), vacated on other grounds, 497 U.S. 1001, 110 S.Ct. 3233, 111 L.Ed.2d 744 (1990); United States v. Grana, 864 F.2d 312, 314 (3d Cir.1989).

While a panel of our Court is bound by the precedential decisions of earlier panels, that rule does not apply " when the prior decision[s] conflict[ ] with a Supreme Court decision." United States v. Tann, 577 F.3d 533, 541 (3d Cir.2009); see also United States v. Singletary, 268 F.3d 196, 202 (3d Cir.2001); Third Circuit Internal Operating Procedure 9.1. Three recent Supreme Court decisions compel us to revise our prior jurisdictional view of Rule 4(b): Kontrick v. Ryan, 540 U.S. 443, 124 S.Ct. 906, 157 L.Ed.2d 867 (2004); Eberhart v. United States, 546 U.S. 12, 126 S.Ct. 403, 163 L.Ed.2d 14 (2005) (per curiam); and Bowles v. Russell, 551 U.S. 205, 127 S.Ct. 2360, 168 L.Ed.2d 96 (2007). In accordance with the uniform holdings of our sister courts of appeals following these decisions,3 we now hold that Rule 4(b) is not jurisdictional and is subject to forfeiture.

In Kontrick, the Supreme Court held that Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 4004-which sets forth a sixty-day window for a creditor to file a complaint objecting to a debtor's discharge-is not jurisdictional. 540 U.S. at 447, 124 S.Ct. 906. The Court explained that the term " jurisdictional" properly applies only to " prescriptions delineating the classes of cases (subject-matter jurisdiction) and the persons (personal jurisdiction)" implicating " a court's adjudicatory authority." Id. at 455, 124 S.Ct. 906. With respect to the former, the Court emphasized, " [o]nly Congress may determine a lower federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction." Id. at 452, 124 S.Ct. 906 (citing U.S. Const. art. III, § 1).

Though other bankruptcy-related time constraints appear in the judicial code, the Court noted that the specific statutory " provision conferring jurisdiction over objections to discharge ... contains no timeliness condition." Id. at 453, 124 S.Ct. 906. Instead, the time limitation governing objections to discharge is governed solely by Rule 4004, a court-prescribed rule established for the " practice and procedure" in bankruptcy actions. Id. The Court recognized that it and other courts had been " less than meticulous" in distinguishing between statutory provisions circumscribing a court's authority to hear a case and " emphatic time prescriptions in rules of court." Id. at 454, 124 S.Ct. 906. Clarifying the distinction, the Court explained that while " subject-matter jurisdiction cannot be expanded to account for the parties' litigation conduct[,] a claim-processing rule, ... even if unalterable on a...

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