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Hawkins v. Thomas

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

January 10, 2017

PAUL L. HAWKINS #366212, Petitioner,
TODD THOMAS, Respondent.


          Aleta A. Trauger United States District Judge

         Before the court is petitioner Paul L. Hawkins's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (ECF No. 1) under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, in which the petitioner alleges that he is confined in the Metro-Davidson County Detention Facility in the absence of due process and in violation of his constitutional rights. The petitioner seeks a declaration that his detention is illegal and in violation of the United States Constitution. The respondent has filed a motion to dismiss and memorandum in support (ECF Nos. 16, 17), to which the petitioner has responded (ECF Nos. 18, 19), and the matter is ripe for review.


         In his petition and brief in support (ECF Nos. 1, 3), Hawkins alleges that he is being held in the custody of the Davidson County Sheriff's Office, and that there are no lawful grounds for his detention. More specifically, he alleges that: (1) his right to due process was violated on September 2, 2015, when his appointed counsel refused to present his alibi evidence at his preliminary hearing on a criminal charge in connection with a stabbing for which he had been arrested; (2) his right to due process was violated when the prosecution knowingly allowed the victim to give false testimony at the preliminary hearing; (3) his right to due process was violated when the state failed to provide him with a transcript of the preliminary hearing; (4) the parole board revoked his parole without a factual basis; and (5) his right to due process was violated by police investigators' failure to get DNA analysis of crime scene evidence.


         In lieu of an answer, Warden Thomas filed a motion to dismiss the petition on the basis that the claims asserted are non-cognizable, unexhausted and/or meritless. Specifically, the respondent asserts in his memorandum that: (1) the petitioner's Claim 1 presents a non-cognizable state law claim because there is no federal constitutional right to a preliminary hearing and claims alleging constitutional violations during preliminary proceedings are generally not cognizable on federal habeas review; (2) Claim 2 is without merit because the petitioner has not established that the victim's testimony is false or that the prosecution knew it was false; (3) Claim 3 is without merit because the petitioner has acknowledged his attorney's receipt of a recording of the preliminary hearing; (4) Claim 4 is unexhausted, as the petitioner's parole revocation is the subject of a pending administrative appeal; and (5) Claim 5 concerns preliminary proceedings not cognizable on federal habeas review, as defendants have no federal constitutional right to DNA analysis.


         A. Procedural Requirements

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3), federal courts may grant habeas relief on claims by a state pretrial detainee if he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. Phillips v. Hamilton Cnty. Ct. of Common Pleas, 668 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2012). However, even while granting relief to a pretrial detainee under § 2241, the Supreme Court has cautioned that “federal habeas corpus does not lie, absent ‘special circumstances, ' to adjudicate the merits of an affirmative defense to a state criminal charge prior to a judgment of conviction by a state court, ” and explained that

Early federal intervention in state criminal proceedings would tend to remove federal questions from the state courts, isolate those courts from constitutional issues, and thereby remove their understanding of and hospitality to federally protected interests. [Exhaustion doctrine] preserves orderly administration of state judicial business, preventing the interruption of state adjudication by federal habeas proceedings.

Braden v. 30th Judicial Cir. Ct. of Ky., 410 U.S. 484, 489, 490 (1973) (quoting Note, Developments in the Law-Federal Habeas Corpus, 83 Harv. L. Rev. 1038, 1094 (1970)). The court thus found that the district court had properly granted relief on a fully exhausted speedy trial claim, but “emphasize[d] that nothing we have said would permit the derailment of a pending state proceeding by an attempt to litigate constitutional defenses prematurely in federal court, ” and rejected the notion that its decision would “convert[] federal habeas corpus into ‘a pretrial-motion forum for state prisoners.'” Id. at 493.

         Likewise, the Sixth Circuit has observed that exercise of the court's power under § 2241 should be limited:

[A]lthough § 2241 establishes jurisdiction in the federal courts to consider pretrial habeas corpus petitions, the courts should abstain from the exercise of that jurisdiction if the issues raised in the petition may be resolved either by trial on the merits in the state courts or by other state procedures available to the petitioner. Abstention from the exercise of the habeas corpus jurisdiction is justified by the doctrine of comity, a recognition of the concurrent jurisdiction created by our federal system of government in the separate state and national sovereignties. Intrusion into state proceedings already underway is warranted only in extraordinary circumstances.

Atkins v. Michigan, 644 F.2d 543, 546 (6th Cir. 1981) (internal citations omitted). Indeed, federal courts have generally recognized that the “Younger abstention doctrine, ” arising from Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), applies to petitions for the writ of habeas corpus. See,e.g., In re Justices of Superior Ct. Dep't of Mass. Tr. Ct., 218 F.3d 11, 17-18 (1st Cir. 2000) (applying abstention principles to pretrial habeas petition); Davis v. Lansing, 851 F.2d 72, 76 (2d Cir. 1988) (affirming dismissal of pretrial habeas petition on abstention grounds). The Younger abstention doctrine requires a federal court to abstain from interfering with pending state civil or criminal proceedings involving important state interests, absent extraordinary circumstances. Younger, 401 U.S. at 44; see Jones v. Perkins, 245 U.S. 390, 391-92 (1918) (“It is well settled that in the absence of exceptional circumstances in criminal cases the regular judicial procedure should be followed and habeas corpus should not be granted in advance of a trial.”). Younger abstention is generally appropriate when three requirements are met: (1) there is an on-going state judicial proceeding; (2) the proceeding implicates important state interests; and (3) there is an adequate opportunity in the state proceeding to raise constitutional challenges. Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). ...

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