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Bates v. Bell

August 20, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge


I. Introduction

In 1987, petitioner Wayne Lee Bates pled guilty to and was convicted of first degree murder in the Criminal Court of Coffee County, Tennessee and, for this offense, he received a death sentence. At the conclusion of his direct and post-conviction review in the state courts, petitioner applied for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The Court denied his application but, on direct appeal, the Sixth Circuit held that he was entitled to relief on his claim of prosecutorial misconduct at the sentencing phase of his trial and remanded the case for entry of an order granting a conditional writ of habeas corpus.

Thereafter, the Court issued an order, which reads, in relevant part:

[I]t is ORDERED that a writ of habeas corpus SHALL ISSUE VACATING the petitioner's judgment of the sentence of death due to prosecutorial misconduct at the penalty phase of the trial, unless, within one hundred and eighty (180) days from the date this order is filed, the State of Tennessee initiates resentencing proceedings. (Doc. 87, Order of April 20, 2005).

Now before the Court are petitioner's motion to enforce that judgment, the State's response, each party's supporting memoranda and documents, petitioner's reply to the response, and the augmented record, as well as each parties' reply or response relating to the augmentation. (Docs. 90-94, 96, 98-100).

II. The Arguments

In his motion, petitioner maintains that the State of Tennessee failed to initiate resentencing procedures in a timely manner, thereby depriving him of the relief granted by this Court. In support of his position, he argues: 1) that his death sentence has not been vacated, 2) that the State did not file a notice of its intent to seek the death penalty until July 14, 2006, 3) that, although this Court's order had not been stayed, the trial court allegedly stated to Mr. Massey, prior to his appointment as petitioner's attorney, that no resentencing proceedings would take place until the Supreme Court had disposed of any application for certiorari review sought by petitioner or the time to seek review had expired, 4) that no motions have been filed in his resentencing, 5) that his counsel has asked to withdraw from his case, and 6) that no new attorney has been appointed. He suggests that he is entitled to an unconditional writ of habeas corpus because the state failed to follow the order.

In his response to the enforcement motion, respondent insists that new penalty proceedings were begun well within the 180-day time frame. Attached to his response are copies of various state court orders regarding the resentencing proceedings, as well as other documents associated with those proceedings. Petitioner has replied to respondent's filings, faulting the Attorney General for the State of Tennessee and the district attorney general-not the state courts-for the delay in pursuing his resentencing. He also reiterates certain assertions contained in the motion to enforce, namely, that the state court: 1) appointed the lead attorney to represent petitioner, though it knew that, due to the attorney's caseload, he would be unable so to do and 2) instructed counsel not to begin working on petitioner's case until the Supreme Court resolved his pending petition for certiorari, though it also knew about this Court's order.

III. Discussion

The question posed in this enforcement action is whether resentencing began within 180 days of the above order.

A. The Law

The Court has jurisdiction to determine whether the State has abided by the terms of the conditional order, Gentry v. Deuth, 456 F.3d 687, 692 (6th Cir 2006), and "to dispose of the matter as law and justice require." 28 U.S.C. ยง 2243. See also United States ex. rel. Marrero v. Warden, Lewisburg Penitentiary, 483 F.2d 656 (3rd Cir.1973). A state's failure to act or cure the constitutional defect identified in a conditional habeas court order by the deadline set in the order justifies issuance of the writ and the remedy specified [i.e., release, nullification of conviction or sentence, etc.]. Gentry, 456 F.3d at 692. Of course, the writ will not issue and a petitioner will not be released if the state complies with the order. Id. Because a district court is in the best position to construe its own orders, Matter of Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific R.R. Co., 865 F.2d 807, 810-11 (7th Cir. 1988), its interpretation need only be reasonable. Michigan v. Allen Park, 954 F.2d 1201, 1213 (6th Cir. 1992). The ...

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