Thompson v. U.S.

Decision Date24 November 1976
Docket NumberNos. 75-8086 and 76-8014,s. 75-8086 and 76-8014
Citation548 F.2d 1031,179 U.S.App.D.C. 76
PartiesIvan C. THOMPSON, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent. Gregory T. GIVENS, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES of America, Respondent.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Michael L. Rankin, Washington, D. C., was on the pleading for petitioner in No. 75-8086.

Paul G. Evans, Baltimore, Md., was on the pleading for petitioner in No. 76-8014.

Before TAMM and ROBINSON, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, Circuit Judge.

SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, Circuit Judge:

The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has original jurisdiction over "any criminal case under any law applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia." 1 Petitioners Thompson and Givens were each charged in unrelated proceedings in the Superior Court with assaulting a District of Columbia police officer, in violation of D.C.Code § 22-505(a). 2 Each has consistently claimed that since § 22-505(a) might have extraterritorial effect 3 it is not "applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia," and hence violations of that section were not cognizable in the Superior Court. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals disagreed, 4 and Thompson and Givens now petition this court for allowance of an appeal from the Court of Appeal's determination that the Superior Court had power to act in their cases.

To sustain our jurisdiction, petitioners rely upon D.C.Code § 11-301(1), which authorizes this court to review judgments of the Court of Appeals "with respect to violations of criminal laws of the United States which are not applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia." 5 As we find that their cases fall outside that jurisdictional grant, their petitions must be dismissed.

Section 11-301 is a small part of a complex congressional scheme for eliminating historic "jurisdictional disarray" in the District of Columbia by reorganizing the courts into a "federalized" system. 6 Prior to the enactment of the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, 7 original jurisdiction over all felony cases resided in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 8 On the other hand, the District of Columbia Court of General Sessions the predecessor of the Superior Court tried misdemeanor cases based on federal law, 9 as did the District Court. 10 Appeals from the Court of General Sessions went to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, 11 which this court was empowered to review. 12 These jurisdictional anomalies, as well as substantial grants of concurrent jurisdiction, produced "delays in the disposition of criminal matter . . . in derogation of the public and federal interest." 13

The Court Reform Act attempted to eliminate these oddities by assimilating the jurisdiction of the District Court and this Court to that of their federal counterparts elsewhere, and by endowing the Superior Court and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals with powers similar to those of state courts. 14 The Superior Court now has exclusive original jurisdiction over all local criminal matters, and no jurisdiction to try those charged with offenses defined in the United States Code. 15 It is subject to review by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, 16 which has become the "highest court of the District," 17 and the Court of Appeal's decisions are reviewable by the Supreme Court on the same basis as those emanating from the states. 18 This contrasts with the previous mode of appellate review, 19 as the House Report noted:

At present, appeals from the Court of General Sessions go to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and then to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and then to the Supreme Court of the United States. . . . The reorganization recom- mended here makes the District of Columbia Court of Appeals the highest local Court. . . . Its decisions will be appealable directly to the United States Supreme Court. This provision removes the existing double level of appeals through the local circuit court. The structure of both appeals courts is changed: when the recommended transfers are accomplished, the local appeals court will have jurisdiction comparable with State court; and the Federal appeals court will be comparable with other Federal appeals courts. 20

These "recommended transfers" could not have been accomplished instanter, however, without risk not only of substantial dislocation but also of prejudice to those already litigating in what was to become an exclusively " local" system. Congress therefore provided for a gradual conversion of the local jurisdiction of the District and Superior Courts. 21 Congress also adopted Section 11-301 of the District of Columbia Code, on the interpretation of which the case at bar depends:

In addition to its jurisdiction as a United States court of appeals and any other jurisdiction conferred on it by law, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has jurisdiction of appeals from judgments of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

(1) with respect to violations of criminal laws of the United States which are not applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia . . .; or

(2) entered before the effective date of the District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970 in any other case . . . . 22

The effect of subsection (2) was to allow this court to entertain a petition for review of any judgment of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals entered before February 1, 1971, 23 and it is transitional in nature. Petitioners' claim is that subsection (1) is not transitional, but rather empowers this Court to continue to hear challenges to the Court of Appeal's interpretations of the Superior Court's criminal jurisdiction. The statutory language, wrenched from its context, might conceivably be so read. We refuse, however, to allow literalness to "strangle the meaning" 24 of Section 11-301(1).

The power that petitioners press on this court would represent the lone instance in which we might review decisions of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and a most peculiar one at that. That court, and not this court, is now the final expositor of local law. 25 We can discern no sound rationale for an exception to this proposition for the purpose merely of allowing this court to review that court's construction of a predominantly local criminal statute in its bearing upon the jurisdiction of a local court. Such an exception would defy the overarching congressional intent 26 that the courts in the District of Columbia be reconstituted into separate and independent systems one local, and the other federal and "freed of (its) local jurisdiction." 27 To be sure, a ruling that the Superior Court does or does not have jurisdiction of a particular matter stands as a precedent also with respect to the coordinated jurisdiction of the District Court. But when jurisdictional problems incidentally involving the federal judiciary arise in state courts, the exclusive federal forum for review is the Supreme Court, not a federal court of appeals. Without a doubt, that forum is available here. 28

A much more plausible interpretation of Section 11-301(1) is that asserted in the Attorney General's message transmitting to Congress the bill that eventually became the Court Reform Act. It described Section 11-301 as "preserv(ing) the jurisdiction of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia over appeals from the D.C. Court of Appeals which are pending or may still be filed on the effective date of the act" thus describing precisely the effect of Section 11-301(2) 29 "or which involved federal misdemeanors tried in the D.C. Court." 30 That latter result may be obtained only under Section 11-301(1), upon which petitioners would rest our jurisdiction in the instant cases. We may note judicially that many federal misdemeanor cases were pending in either the old Court of General Sessions or the District of Columbia Court of Appeals during the period of congressional consideration of the Act. 31 Congress apparently wished to preserve as a part of the machinery for appeals in those cases a federal forum intermediate to the Supreme Court, as was the situation prior to the Act. 32 Since there was no way to predict the length of time necessary for a case to travel from the Superior Court through the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and ultimately to this court, it is understandable that no time restriction was incorporated in Section 11-301(1).

By our construction, then, Section 11-301(1) permits us to review decisions of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals only in cases involving federal offenses tried in the Superior Court. Because the Superior Court has not had jurisdiction of prosecutions of that type since the effective date of the Act, 33 the possibility of review under that section is nearing extinction. 34 This reading of Section 11-301(1) is at once more in accord with Congress' "federalization" scheme and more nearly symmetrical with others of the provisions for transfer of jurisdiction contained in the Court Reform Act. 35 It is consistent also with the pronouncements of courts and commentators alike. 36 Since neither petitioner stands charged with a federal misdemeanor, their cases are not within our jurisdiction, and their petitions for leave to appeal are accordingly dismissed.

So ordered.

1 D.C.Code § 11-923 (1973) provides:

(a) The Superior Court has jurisdiction over all criminal cases pending in the District of Columbia Court of General Sessions before the effective date of the District of Columbia Court Reorganization Act of 1970.

(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Superior Court has jurisdiction of any criminal case under any law applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia.

(2) The Superior Court shall not...

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