Swain v. Pressley, No. 75-811

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEVENS
Citation430 U.S. 372,51 L.Ed.2d 411,97 S.Ct. 1224
PartiesC. L. SWAIN, Superintendent, Lorton Reformatory, Petitioner, v. Jasper C. PRESSLEY
Docket NumberNo. 75-811
Decision Date22 March 1977

430 U.S. 372
97 S.Ct. 1224
51 L.Ed.2d 411
C. L. SWAIN, Superintendent, Lorton Reformatory, Petitioner,

v.

Jasper C. PRESSLEY.

No. 75-811.
Argued Jan. 19, 1977.
Decided March 22, 1977.

Syllabus

Respondent, in custody pursuant to a sentence imposed by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, applied in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a writ of habeas corpus seeking a review of the constitutionality of the proceedings that led to his conviction and sentence. The District Court dismissed the application on the basis of D.C.Code Ann. § 23-110(g) (1973), which provides that an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a prisoner authorized to apply for collateral relief by motion in the Superior Court pursuant to the statute 'shall not be entertained by the Superior Court or by any Federal or State court if it appears that the applicant has failed to make a motion for relief under this section or that the Superior Court has denied him relief . . ..' The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. Doubting the constitutionality of the statutory curtailment of the District Court's jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus, the court construed the statute as merely requiring the exhaustion of local remedies before a habeas corpus petition could be filed in the District Court, and concluded that respondent had exhausted those remedies. Held:

1. Section 23-110(g) prohibits the District Court from entertaining respondent's postconviction application for a writ of habeas corpus. The statute expressly covers the situation in which the applicant has exhausted his local remedies, and requires that the Federal District Court not entertain the habeas application in such a case. Moreover, the language of § 23-110(g) was deliberately patterned after 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which created a new postconviction remedy in sentencing district courts, and provided that a habeas corpus petition may not be entertained elsewhere; § 23-110(g) was plainly intended to achieve the parallel result in the District of Columbia by requiring collateral review of convictions from the Superior Court to be heard in that court. Pp. 377-378.

2. Section 23-110(g) does not suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in violation of Art. I, § 9, cl. 2, of the Constitution. Pp. 379-384.

Page 373

(a) The final clause of § 23-110(g), which allows a Federal District Court to entertain a habeas corpus application if it 'appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of (the applicant's) detention,' avoids any serious question about the statute's constitutionality. The substitution of a new collateral remedy that is neither inadequate nor eneffective does not constitute a suspension of the writ. Cf. United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 223, 72 S.Ct. 263, 274, 96 L.Ed. 232. P. 381.

(b) The collateral relief available in the Superior Court is neither ineffective nor inadequate simply because the judges of that court lack the protections of Art. III judges (life tenure and salary protection), for they must be presumed competent to decide all constitutional and other issues that routinely arise in criminal cases. Pp. 381-383.

169 U.S.App.D.C. 319, 515 F.2d 1290, reversed.

Solicitor Gen. Robert H. Bork, Washington, D. C., for petitioner.

Mark W. Foster, Washington, D. C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent is in custody pursuant to a sentence imposed by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.1 He has filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia asking that court to review the constitutionality of the proceedings that

Page 374

led to his conviction and sentence. The question presented to us is whether § 23-110(g) of the District of Columbia Code2 prevents the District Court from entertaining the application.3

Page 375

Congress enacted § 23-110(g) as part of the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, 84 Stat. 608; that Act created a new local court system and transferred in its entirety the Federal District Court's responsibility for processing local litigation to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.4 Section 23-110 of the Code established a procedure for collateral review of convictions in the Superior Court; the procedure is comparable to that authorized by 28 U.S.C. § 2255 for the United States district courts. Section 23-110(g) provides:

'An application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a prisoner who is authorized to apply for relief by motion pursuant to this section shall not be entertained by the Superior Court or by any Federal or State court if it appears that the applicant has failed to make a

Page 376

motion for relief under this section or that the Superior Court has denied him relief, unless it also appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention.'5 (Emphasis added.)

On the authority of this provision, the District Court dismissed respondent's application.6 The Court of Appeals reversed. Largely because of its doubts concerning the constitutionality of a statutory curtailment of the District Court's jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus, the Court of Appeals construed the statute as merely requiring exhaustion of local remedies before a habeas corpus petition could be filed in the District Court.7 The Court of Appeals, unlike

Page 377

the District Court, concluded that respondent had exhausted his loal remedies and thus remanded the case to the District Court for consideration of the merits. The Government's petition for certiorari which we granted, 424 U.S. 907, 96 S.Ct. 1101, 47 L.Ed.2d 311, did not question the Court of Appeals' conclusion regarding exhaustion.8

I

There are two reasons why § 23-110(g) cannot fairly be read as merely requiring the exhaustion of local remedies before applying for a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court.

First, the statute expressly covers the situation in which the applicant has exhausted his local remedies, and requirs that the application be denied in such a case. The statute provides that the application 'shall not be entertained . . . by any Federal . . . court if it appears that . . . the Superior Court has denied (the applicant) relief.' This unequivocal statutory command to federal courts not to entertain an application for habeas corpus after the applicant has been denied collateral relief in the Superior Court, is squarely at odds with the Court of Appeals' view that the statute deals only witgh the procedure the applicant must follow before he may request relief in the District Court.

Second, the language of § 23-110(g) was deliberately patterned after 28 U.S.C. § 2255.9 That section, enacted in

Page 378

1948, 62 Stat. 967, substituted a new collateral-review procedure for the pre-existing habeas corpus procedure. Prior to the adoption of § 2255, the district courts for the districts in which federal prisoners were confined entertained habeas corpus petitions; since 1948, collateral review has been available pursuant to § 2255 only in the districts in which the convictions were obtained. Thus, § 2255 created a new postconviction remedy in the sentencing court and provided that a habeas corpus petition may not be entertained elsewhere.10 See United States v. Hayman, 342 U.S. 205, 72 S.Ct. 263, 96 L.Ed. 232. Just as § 2255 was intended to substitute a different fourm and a different procedure for collateral review of federal convictions, § 23-110(g) was plainly intended to achieve a parallel result with respect to convictions in the District of Columbia.

Notwithstanding the desirability of adopting a construction of the statute which would avoid the constitutional issue raised by respondent, we are convinced that the language of § 23-110(g) is sufficiently plain to require us simply to read it as it is written.11

Purpose makes marked deviations from custom or leads inevitably to a holding of constitutional invalidity.'

Page 379

II

Respondent argues12 that § 110(g), if read literally, violates Art. I, § 9, cl. 2, of the United States Constitution, which provides:

'The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not

Page 380

be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.'

His argument is made in two steps: (1) that the substitution of a remedy that is not 'exactly commensurate' with habeas corpus relief available in a district court is a suspension of the writ within the meaning of the Clause; and (2) that because the judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia do not enjoy the life tenure and salary protection which are guaranteed to district judges by Art. III, § 1, of the Constitution, the collateral-review procedure authorized by § 23-110(g) of the District of Columbia Code is not exactly commensurate with habeas corpus relief in the district courts.

The Government disputes both propositions. First, it contends that the constitutional provision merely prohibits suspension of the writ as it was being used when the Constitution was adopted; at that time the writ was not employed in collateral attacks on judgments entered by courts of competent jurisdiction.13 Second, it contends that the procedure authorized by § 23-110(g) is 'exactly commensurate' with the pre-existing habeas corpus remedy.

Page 381

We are satisfied that the statute is valid, but we do not rest our decision on either of the broad propositions advanced by the Government. We are persuaded that the final clause in § 23-110(g) avoids any serious question about the constitutionality of the statute. That clause allows the District Court to entertain a habeas corpus application if it 'appears that the remedy by motion is inadequate or...

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547 practice notes
  • Talley v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, No. 09-2123.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 12, 2010
    ...because courts don't interpret statutes to blot out whole phrases, that line of argument had poor prospects. See, e.g., Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 378-79 & n. 11, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977); Harrison v. PPG Industries, Inc., 446 U.S. 578, 592, 100 S.Ct. 1889, 64 L.Ed.2d 525 ......
  • Lewis v. United States, No. 78-1595
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 27, 1980
    ...is appropriate only when the statute provides a fair alternative construction. This statute could not be more plain. Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 378, and n. 11 (1977); United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S., at 122-123. Similarly, any principle of lenity, see Rewis v. United States, 401......
  • Singh v. Holder, No. 10–15715.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 31, 2011
    ...remedy offering the same scope of review as habeas. See Puri v. Gonzales, 464 F.3d 1038, 1041–42 (9th Cir.2006) (citing Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 381, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977) and INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 314 n. 38, 121 S.Ct. 2271, 150 L.Ed.2d 347 (2001)).Conclusion ......
  • Al-Marri v. Wright, No. 06-7427.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • June 11, 2007
    ...jurisdiction over habeas petitions without suspending the writ if it provides an "adequate and effective" substitute, Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 381, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977), Al-Marri maintains that Congress has provided him no substitute at all. Thus, he argues, if the M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
547 cases
  • Talley v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, No. 09-2123.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • February 12, 2010
    ...because courts don't interpret statutes to blot out whole phrases, that line of argument had poor prospects. See, e.g., Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 378-79 & n. 11, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977); Harrison v. PPG Industries, Inc., 446 U.S. 578, 592, 100 S.Ct. 1889, 64 L.Ed.2d 525 ......
  • Lewis v. United States, No. 78-1595
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • February 27, 1980
    ...is appropriate only when the statute provides a fair alternative construction. This statute could not be more plain. Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 378, and n. 11 (1977); United States v. Batchelder, 442 U.S., at 122-123. Similarly, any principle of lenity, see Rewis v. United States, 401......
  • Singh v. Holder, No. 10–15715.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • March 31, 2011
    ...remedy offering the same scope of review as habeas. See Puri v. Gonzales, 464 F.3d 1038, 1041–42 (9th Cir.2006) (citing Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 381, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977) and INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 314 n. 38, 121 S.Ct. 2271, 150 L.Ed.2d 347 (2001)).Conclusion ......
  • Al-Marri v. Wright, No. 06-7427.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • June 11, 2007
    ...jurisdiction over habeas petitions without suspending the writ if it provides an "adequate and effective" substitute, Swain v. Pressley, 430 U.S. 372, 381, 97 S.Ct. 1224, 51 L.Ed.2d 411 (1977), Al-Marri maintains that Congress has provided him no substitute at all. Thus, he argues, if the M......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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