Government of Virgin Islands v. Hodge

Decision Date26 February 2004
Docket NumberNo. 02-1137.,No. 02-1136.,No. 02-1221.,No. 02-1222.,02-1136.,02-1137.,02-1221.,02-1222.
Citation359 F.3d 312
PartiesGOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS v. Selvin HODGE, Appellant. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Ottice Bryan, Appellant. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Kirsten Greenaway, Appellant. Government of the Virgin Islands v. Eladio Camacho, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Harold W.L. Willocks, Debra Smith-Watlington, (Argued), Leslie L. Payton, Territorial Public Defender, St. Thomas, for Appellant Selvin Hodge.

George H. Hodge, Jr., St. Thomas, for Appellant Ottice Bryan.

Bruce Streibich, Law Offices of Bruce W. Steibich, St. Thomas, for Appellant Kirsten Greenaway.

Stephen A. Brusch (Argued), The Brusch Law Firm, St. Thomas, for Appellant Eladio Camacho.

Iver A. Stridiron, Elliott M. Davis, Douglas J. Juergens (Argued), Department of Justice, St. Thomas, for Appellee, Government of the Virgin Islands.

Before: NYGAARD, BECKER, and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal by four codefendants, Selvin Hodge, Ottice Bryan, Kirsten Greenaway, and Eladio Camacho, of an order of the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Appellate Division in an interlocutory appeal brought by the Government of the Virgin Islands from the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands. Seeking reversal, pursuant to 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1), the Government sought review of the Territorial Court's pretrial order redacting the confessions that the Government planned to use against the defendants. The Appellate Division held that the Territorial Court had erred in redacting the confessions more stringently than required by the Supreme Court's holdings in Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968), Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987), and Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185, 118 S.Ct. 1151, 140 L.Ed.2d 294 (1998). Accordingly, the Appellate Division vacated the Territorial Court's order and remanded for that Court to reconsider the redactions in the first instance.

Having lost before the Appellate Division, the defendants seek review in this Court, arguing that the Appellate Division either (1) lacked jurisdiction over the Government's interlocutory appeal (and hence that the Territorial Court's order should stand for now), or (2) erred on the merits in vacating the Territorial Court's order. This being an interlocutory appeal from an order entered in an interlocutory appeal, the threshold issue is our own appellate jurisdiction. We conclude that we have appellate jurisdiction over the Appellate Division's determination of its own jurisdiction under the collateral order doctrine. We also conclude that we lack appellate jurisdiction to review the merits of the Appellate Division's ruling. Most notably, we decide that a certification by the Government that the Territorial Court's grant of a pretrial suppression motion deprives the Government of "substantial proof of the charge pending against the defendant" satisfies the requirements of 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1), without a separate substantiality determination by the court. Accordingly, in this case we hold that the Appellate Division had jurisdiction under 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1) to hear the Government's interlocutory appeal, dismiss the appeals in all other respects, and remand to the Territorial Court for further proceedings in accordance with the Appellate Division's opinion.

I. Procedural History
A. The Virgin Islands Court System

We have recently described the structure of the court system in the Virgin Islands in some detail, see Gov't of V.I. v. Rivera, 333 F.3d 143, 145-46 (3d Cir.2003), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 124 S.Ct. 1171, 157 L.Ed.2d 1205, 72 U.S.L.W. 3373 (U.S. Jan. 26, 2004) (No. 03-736), and need not recount it here, though some details bear repeating. There are two trial courts: The Territorial Court is comparable to a state court of general jurisdiction, see 4 V.I.Code § 76, while the District Court of the Virgin Islands has "the jurisdiction of a District Court of the United States," 48 U.S.C. § 1612(a). Appeals from the District Court come to this Court under the familiar provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291-1292 and other special-purpose statutes. Until the Virgin Islands establishes a local intermediate appellate tribunal, appeals from the Territorial Court go to a three-judge panel known as the District Court of the Virgin Islands, Appellate Division (the "Appellate Division").1 See 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(a). Though established by federal law, the Appellate Division exercises "such appellate jurisdiction over the courts of the Virgin Islands established by local law [i.e., the Territorial Court] to the extent now or hereafter prescribed by local law." Id. In other words, the Virgin Islands Legislature decides (subject to some reservations in 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(a)) who can appeal to the Appellate Division, and when they can appeal. At issue in this case is a provision regarding interlocutory appeals by the Government of certain pretrial orders in criminal cases, 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1). Appeals from decisions of the Appellate Division may be taken to this Court under 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(c).

B. The Proceedings in the Territorial Court and Before the Appellate Division

In November 1999, Duvalier Basquin was lured to a lonely road in the Bolongo Bay area of St. Thomas. There, he was robbed and murdered. Following an investigation by the Virgin Islands Police, the Government of the Virgin Islands (the "Government") charged Selvin Hodge, Ottice Bryan, Kirsten Greenaway, and Eladio Camacho (collectively, the "defendants") with robbery, felony murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. During the investigation, Hodge and Camacho gave statements inculpating themselves and the other defendants in Basquin's murder. Greenaway gave a statement exculpating herself, but potentially inculpating the other defendants. Bryan gave no statement.

The Government sought to use these statements at trial. However, since the Government proposed to try the defendants jointly, and none of the defendants who offered statements would testify, the statements would have to be redacted—or even rewritten—to preserve the defendants' Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause rights. See Bruton v. United States, 391 U.S. 123, 88 S.Ct. 1620, 20 L.Ed.2d 476 (1968), Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 107 S.Ct. 1702, 95 L.Ed.2d 176 (1987), and Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185, 118 S.Ct. 1151, 140 L.Ed.2d 294 (1998).2 At a pretrial hearing before the Territorial Court, the Government offered proposed redactions of the statements, but after lengthy argument, the Territorial Court concluded that the Government's proposal did not satisfy Bruton and its progeny. Ruling from the bench, the Territorial Court described the further redactions that would be required to admit the confessions.3

Title 4, section 39(a)(1) of the Virgin Islands Code provides:

The United States or the Government of the Virgin Islands may appeal an order, entered before the trial of a person charged with a criminal offense under the laws of the Virgin Islands, which directs the return of seized property, suppresses evidence, or otherwise denies the prosecutor the use of evidence at trial, if the United States Attorney or the Attorney General conducting the prosecution for such violation certifies to the Judge who granted such motion that the appeal is not taken for purpose of delay and the evidence is a substantial proof of the charge pending against the defendant.

The Government, relying on 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1), noticed its appeal to the Appellate Division and on the same day provided the certification that the statute requires. On appeal, the Appellate Division opined that the Government's proposed redaction was insufficient to protect the defendants' Confrontation Clause rights, but concluded that the Territorial Court had directed more redaction than necessary. It offered some illustrations of how, on remand, the Territorial Court could solve the "Goldilocks problem" of crafting altered confessions that were not too lightly redacted, not too heavily redacted, but just right.

The defendants were disappointed in the outcome before the Appellate Division; they would have much preferred the redactions ordered by the Territorial Court.4 They appealed to this Court, arguing that either the Appellate Division did not have jurisdiction under 4 V.I.Code § 39(a)(1) to review the Territorial Court's order, or else that the Appellate Division erred on the merits in holding that the Territorial Court went further than required by Bruton and its progeny. Under the former disposition, we would simply reinstate the Territorial Court's order. Under the latter disposition, we would confront the merits of the defendants' Bruton argument.

II. This Court's Appellate Jurisdiction

At the threshold, we must examine whether we have appellate jurisdiction over one, both, or neither of the questions that the defendants present. See Gov't of V.I. v. Marsham, 293 F.3d 114, 116 (3d Cir.2002) (quoting Collinsgru v. Palmyra Bd. of Educ., 161 F.3d 225, 229 (3d Cir.1998) ("we have an independent obligation to examine our jurisdiction to hear this appeal.")). Three of the four defendants invoke this Court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Although some of our cases are imprecise about the statutory source of our jurisdiction over the Appellate Division, we take this opportunity to clarify that, as a technical matter, it is 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(c), and not 28 U.S.C. § 1291, that confers jurisdiction on this Court over appeals from the Appellate Division. However, the distinction is only technical—our cases have uniformly held that 48 U.S.C. § 1613a(c) has the same requirements for appealability as 28 U.S.C. § 1291. See, e.g., Rivera, 333 F.3d at 147; Ortiz v. Dodge, 126 F.3d 545, 547 (3d Cir.1997).

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