U.S. v. Quinones, 121002 FED2, 02-1403(L)

Docket Nº:02-1403(L)
Party Name:U.S. v. Quinones
Case Date:October 21, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
 
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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Appellant,

v.

ALAN QUINONES and DIEGO B. RODRIGUEZ, Defendants-Appellees, HECTOR VEGA, a/k/a JIMBO; JANET SOTO; MILTON RIVERA; JOSEPH C. BROWN; JOHNNY RODRIGUEZ, a/k/a BLAZE; SAUL HERNANDEZ; RAUL HERNANDEZ, a/k/a "TWIN", a/k/a CARLOS P. LUIS; and ROBERT VEVE, Defendants

Docket Nos. 02-1403(L),

02-1405(Con)

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

August Term, 2002

Argued: October 21, 2002

Decided:

December 10, 2002

Before: WINTER, MCLAUGHLIN, and CABRANES, Circuit Judges.

Defendants Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez were indicted for, inter alia, murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 1959(a)(1) and 2. Shortly thereafter, the Government filed notices of its intention to seek the death penalty against them. In response, Quinones and Rodriguez filed a motion to strike the death penalty notices on the ground that the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 ("the FDPA"), Pub. L. No. 103-322, Title VI, § § 60001-60026, 108 Stat. 1959 (Sept. 13, 1994) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § § 3591-3598), is unconstitutional. In a preliminary Opinion and Order entered on April 25, 2002, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Jed S. Rakoff, Judge) indicated its intention to hold that the FDPA violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because DNA testing has demonstrated that "innocent people are convicted of capital crimes with some frequency." United States v. Quinones, 196 F.Supp.2d 416, 420 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). After affording the Government an opportunity to submit additional briefing on this issue, the District Court reaffirmed its preliminary views in a final Opinion and Order, entered on July 1, 2002. United States v. Quinones, 205 F.Supp.2d 256 (S.D.N.Y. 2002). After holding that the constitutionality of the FDPA was ripe for adjudication prior to trial, the District Court concluded that the FDPA violates substantive and procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Government appealed prior to trial.

We hold that (1) we have jurisdiction to entertain this appeal, (2) the constitutional challenge was ripe for consideration prior to trial, (3) to the extent the defendants claim relies upon the Eighth Amendment, it is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976), and (4) the FDPA does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Reversed.

MEIR FEDER, Assistant United States Attorney (David B. Anders and David Rody, Assistant United States Attorneys, on the brief), for James B. Comey, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York, NY, for Appellant.

SAMUEL R. GROSS, University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, MI (Don D. Buchwald, Buchwald & Kaufman, New York, NY; Lee Ginsberg, Freeman, Nooter & Ginsberg, New York, NY; Jean Barrett, Ruhnke & Barrett, Montclair, NJ; Kevin McNally, Frankfort, KY; Avraham Moskowitz, Moskowitz & Book, New York, NY, on the brief), for Defendants- Appellees.

BARRY C. SCHECK, Innocence Project, Cardozo School of Law (Joshua L. Dratel, Peter Neufeld, on the brief), New York, NY, for Innocence Project, the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, and New York Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Amicus Curiae.

Christopher Dunn, Arthur Eisenberg, and Donna Lieberman, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York, NY; Diann Rust-Tierney, American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, Washington, DC; and Ursula Bentele, Brooklyn, NY, for New York Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union Capital Punishment Project, Amicus Curiae.

JOSÉ A. CABRANES, Circuit Judge:

We consider here a challenge to the constitutionality of the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 ("FDPA"), Pub. L. No. 103-322, Title VI, § § 60001-60026, 108 Stat. 1959 (Sept. 13, 1994) (codified at 18 U.S.C. § § 3591-3598).

Defendants Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez were indicted for, inter alia, murder in aid of racketeering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 1959(a)(1) and 2. Shortly thereafter, the Government filed notices of its intention to seek the death penalty against them. In response, Quinones and Rodriguez filed a motion to strike the death penalty notices on the ground that the FDPA is unconstitutional. In a preliminary Opinion and Order entered on April 25, 2002, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Jed S. Rakoff, Judge) indicated its intention to hold that the FDPA violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because DNA testing has demonstrated that "innocent people are convicted of capital crimes with some frequency." United States v. Quinones, 196 F.Supp.2d 416, 420 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("Quinones I"). After affording the Government an opportunity to submit additional briefing on this issue, the District Court reaffirmed its preliminary views in an Opinion and Order entered on July 1, 2002. United States v. Quinones, 205 F.Supp.2d 256 (S.D.N.Y. 2002) ("Quinones II"). It held that (1) the constitutionality of the FDPA was ripe for adjudication prior to trial and (2) the FDPA violates substantive and procedural due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The Government timely filed this appeal. Id.

As an initial matter, we hold that (1) we have jurisdiction to entertain this appeal and (2) the constitutional challenge was ripe for consideration prior to trial. Accordingly, we must address the appellant's substantive claim and the District Court's holding that the FDPA is unconstitutional on its face. We hold that, to the extent the defendants' arguments rely upon the Eighth Amendment, their argument is foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153 (1976). With respect to the defendants' Fifth Amendment due process claim, we observe that the language of the Due Process Clause itself recognizes the possibility of capital punishment. Moreover, the defendants' argument that execution deprives individuals of the opportunity for exoneration is not new at all-it repeatedly has been made to the Supreme Court and rejected by the Supreme Court. Most notably, the Supreme Court expressly held in Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 407-08, 411 (1993), that, while the Due Process Clause protects against government infringement upon rights that are "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental," there is no fundamental right to a continued opportunity for exoneration throughout the course of one's natural life. Because neither we nor the District Court is authorized to disregard or overturn the Supreme Court's holding in Herrera, see, e.g., Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/Am. Express, Inc., 490 U.S. 477, 484 (1989), we reverse the order of the District Court.

I.

On July 20, 2000, a grand jury sitting in the Southern District of New York returned Indictment 00 CR. 761 (JSR), charging ten defendants, including Alan Quinones and Diego Rodriguez, with, inter alia, the murder of Edwin Santiago in aid of racketeering activity. Specifically, Counts One and Two charged Quinones, Rodriguez, and two others with racketeering and racketeering conspiracy, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), (d). Count Three charged Quinones, Rodriguez, and others with conspiracy to murder in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 1959(a)(5) and 2, and Count Four charged the same defendants with murder in aid of racketeering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § § 1959(a)(1) and 2. Count Five charged Quinones and Rodriguez, among others, with conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846.

On January 16, 2001, the grand jury returned a superseding indictment adding Counts Six and Seven. Count Six charged Quinones with unlawfully distributing a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C. § § 812, 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(C) and 18 U.S.C. § 2, and Count Seven charged another defendant with the same offense. On April 19, 2002, the grand jury returned a second superseding indictment, adding Count Eight, which charged Quinones, Rodriguez, and others with murder in connection with a drug trafficking crime, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 848(e)(1)(A). Counts Four and Eight of the second superseding indictment are death-eligible offenses. See 18 U.S.C. § § 848(e)(1)(A) and 1959(a)(1).1

On October 26, 2001, the Government filed notices of its intention to seek the death penalty against defendants Quinones and Rodriguez. That same day the District Court held a pre- trial conference to discuss, inter alia, a motions schedule for death-penalty-related motions. During the conference, the Court, acting sua sponte, raised the issue of whether the FDPA might be unconstitutional:

I will tell you one issue that I would think might be helpful to the court to have briefed. I am not suggesting that, because it is not my place to suggest any particular motion for either side. That is why we have an adversary system. And I do not claim any great expertise in prior decisions relating to the death penalty, but I am aware just from common knowledge that there have been a large number of cases, large may be not quite the right word, but certainly a number of reported cases recently, chiefly as a result of DNA testing, that have indicated that an innocent person was convicted and not so completely rarely as to make it appear totally aberrational.

So I guess the question that that would lead any reasonable person to ask is[:] is a form of penalty that precludes forever rectification of err[or]s that go to actual innocence a form of penalty that accords with the Constitution? It seems to me this is different from how things might have appeared three, four, five years ago or...

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