Fernandez v. Trias Monge

Citation586 F.2d 848
Decision Date28 September 1978
Docket NumberNo. 78-1066,78-1066
PartiesEusebia FERNANDEZ etc., Plaintiff, Appellant, v. Honorable Jose TRIAS MONGE etc., et al., Defendants, Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)

Maria Laura Colon, Hato Rey, P. R., with whom Heriberto Quinones-Eshevarria, Hato Rey, P. R., was on brief, for appellant.

Reina Colon de Rodriguez, Asst. Sol. Gen., Dept. of Justice, San Juan, P. R., with whom Hector A. Colon Cruz, Sol. Gen., San Juan, P. R., was on brief, for appellees.

Before CAMPBELL and BOWNES, Circuit Judges, PETTINE, District Judge *.

PETTINE, District Judge.

This case dramatically diagrams the pitfalls that snare or nearly snare litigants and courts alike when a constitutional claim is brought in federal court that involves an ongoing state prosecution. The deceptively simple rule announced in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), that a federal court should not enjoin the pending state proceeding, premised on the sound judicial philosophy of respect for the state forum, has resulted all too often in practice in justice delayed. 1 In the instant case, justice delayed is literally justice denied for the juvenile here who claims that his detention for several months prior to trial was without benefit of due process procedures required by the Constitution. His claim has yet to receive consideration by any court, local or federal. We reverse the district court's dismissal of the complaint and remand for an expeditious resolution of plaintiff's constitutional claim.

On September 27, 1977, defendant Carlos Haddock Perez, Judge of the Caguas Juvenile Court, ordered complaints filed against plaintiff Fernandez, a juvenile, charging Fernandez with five violations of the Penal Code of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. At the same time, Judge Perez placed Fernandez in detention pending trial; no bail was set because, under Puerto Rican law, 34 L.P.R.A. sec. 2007(d) (1969), juveniles are not eligible for bail. Plaintiff Fernandez alleges that the filing of the complaints and the pretrial detention were ordered without an adversary probable cause hearing, either before or since. In this respect, Judge Perez followed the procedure established for juvenile courts throughout the Commonwealth, 34 L.P.R.A. secs. 2001 Et seq., App. 1, Rules for Minors (1969). Pursuant to these Rules, the juvenile judge orders the filing of a complaint if "there is good cause to believe the minor committed the offense". Rule 5.1. His determination of good cause is apparently based solely on a social worker's or juvenile probation officer's investigatory report. Typically, that report results from the worker's or officer's interviews with the juvenile. The judge orders detention unless he finds, also based on the report, that "detention is not required for the best interests of the minor and of the community". Rule 3.6. Plaintiff complains that these ex parte procedures fail to afford the juvenile any opportunity prior to trial to contest either the probable cause finding or his pretrial detention.

In a petition to the juvenile court on October 18, 1977, while still detained, plaintiff requested a judicial hearing to determine probable cause. Plaintiff and defendants differ over whether the request was premised solely on the Constitution of Puerto Rico, as plaintiff maintains, or also on the United States Constitution, as defendants insist. That request was denied orally on October 26, 1977.

On November 18, 1977, plaintiff filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, raising both federal and Commonwealth constitutional claims. On December 8, 1977, the petition was denied without any indication of the reasons for denial.

No appeal was taken to the United States Supreme Court. Instead, on December 13, plaintiff filed a class action in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983 (1970), seeking a stay of state criminal proceedings scheduled to begin December 15, a declaration that the juvenile court procedure violated the federal constitution and an injunction enjoining defendants, Judge Perez, and the Honorable Jose Trias Monge, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, in his administrative capacity, from following the procedure of detaining juveniles without a probable cause hearing. On December 14, the district judge refused to stay the state prosecution, finding, contrary to plaintiff's argument, that the trial on the merits would not moot the constitutional claim regarding pretrial detention. In addition, the district judge dismissed the federal action in deference to the pending state prosecution on the authority of Younger and Huffman v. Pursue, 420 U.S. 592, 95 S.Ct. 1200, 43 L.Ed.2d 482 (1975). Although plaintiff's certiorari petition had been denied, the district court viewed the denial as no more than a rejection of an interlocutory appeal, with no negative intimations about the future prospects of a final appeal. The district court interpreted Huffman to compel dismissal of the federal complaint since avenues of state appellate review remained unexhausted.

Plaintiff remained in detention until his escape on December 15. Because of his flight, trial on the merits in juvenile court was postponed. Upon his return to custody in early June, 1978, trial was rescheduled for June 22.


On appeal of the district court's dismissal, plaintiff urges that Younger restraint is inapplicable to his federal action. We agree. In the paradigm situation calling for Younger restraint, the state defendant brings a federal action challenging the statute under which he is simultaneously being prosecuted. Because the defendant can raise the constitutional defense in the ordinary course of his state prosecution, he has an immediate adequate remedy without federal intervention. Moreover, federal declaratory or injunctive relief would necessarily halt or undermine the validity of the pending criminal proceedings. To avoid this friction, Younger requires dismissal of the federal action, absent exceptional circumstances. See Cicero v. Olgiati, 426 F.Supp. 1213, 1218 (S.D.N.Y.1976); Developments in the Law Section 1983 and Federalism, 90 Harv.L.Rev. 1133, 1318-20 (1977).

Younger restraint is not limited to a challenge on the merits but extends, for example, to a claim of unconstitutional search and seizure, Perez v. Ledesma, 401 U.S. 82, 91 S.Ct. 674, 27 L.Ed.2d 701 (1971). That claim can be adequately raised in due course at a suppression hearing. In addition, a federal finding of unconstitutionality necessarily undermines a state prosecution relying on the inadmissible evidence. In the many cases since Younger, the Supreme Court has never abandoned these essential predicates to Younger restraint adequate state remedy and danger of federal interruption of pending state proceeding but instead has expanded their scope. For example, in Huffman v. Pursue, supra, because the federal plaintiff had an adequate remedy in the state's direct appeal procedure and federal relief would interfere with that unexhausted appeal, Younger restraint was in order.

By contrast, plaintiff in the instant case neither had an adequate remedy in the Commonwealth courts, nor would the federal injunctive or declaratory relief he sought affect the pending trial on the merits. His constitutional challenge addresses neither the merits of his prosecution nor the procedure or admission of evidence at trial, but rather the procedure applicable to his pretrial detention. His claimed right not to be detained prior to trial without a due process hearing is not adequately protected by relief at or post trial. Concomitantly, violation of that collateral right is neither a defense at trial nor grounds for vacation upon conviction. Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 119, 95 S.Ct. 854, 865, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975). Thus, he does not have the opportunity to raise his collateral claim in the ordinary course of the Commonwealth's proceedings and federal declaratory or injunctive relief would not impact in any way the pending trial. 2

The absence of an adequate remedy and of the danger of federal interference has removed Younger barriers to other challenges to state pretrial procedures. For example, in Gerstein v. Pugh, supra, a case that involved a similar problem of Younger applicability, the Supreme Court expressly noted that Younger did not require dismissal of a constitutional challenge brought in federal court by adult defendants detained while awaiting trial without a probable cause determination. The Court wrote (R)espondents' claim for relief was not barred by the equitable restrictions on federal intervention in state prosecutions, Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669) (1971). The injunction was not directed at the state prosecutions as such, but only at the legality of pretrial detention without a judicial hearing, an issue that could not be raised in defense of the criminal prosecution. The order to hold preliminary hearings could not prejudice the conduct of the trial on the merits. 420 U.S. at 108 n.9, 95 S.Ct. at 860.

In support, the Court cited the Third Circuit's similar holding in the juvenile context, Conover v. Montemuro, 477 F.2d 1073, 1082 (1972). Despite a more recent extension of Younger restraint to a challenge to pretrial attachment procedures, Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 97 S.Ct. 1911, 52 L.Ed.2d 486 (1977), the Court in Trainor specifically distinguished Gerstein, without even remotely doubting its continuing validity. Unlike Gerstein, the Trainor attachment procedure was considered integral to the underlying action for fraud brought by the state. In addition, federal plaintiffs never answered the attachment or moved to quash it; both procedures were available in the ordinary course of state proceedings. Id. at n.9. The Supreme Court remanded for determination of whether the constitutional claim...

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