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Weatherspoon v. Oldham

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

February 26, 2018




         Before the Court is Petitioner Delchon Weatherspoon's petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, filed on July 25, 2017 (the “§ 2241 Petition”). (ECF No. 1.) Weatherspoon challenges the constitutionality of his pre-trial detention on the ground that the state trial court required an unattainable financial condition of pretrial release without making any inquiry into Weatherspoon's ability to pay or considering alternative, non-monetary conditions of release. (ECF No. 1-7 at 480-81.)[1] Weatherspoon argues that the state trial court failed to comply with the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States Constitution. (Id. at 481.) Weatherspoon seeks a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release, or, in the alternative, ordering an additional hearing that comports with Due Process. (Id. at 470.) Respondent Bill Oldham, Shelby County Sheriff, Weatherspoon's custodian, responded on November 6, 2017. (ECF No. 21.) Weatherspoon replied on November 13, 2017. (ECF No. 22.)

         For the following reasons, Weatherspoon's § 2241 Petition is GRANTED. Weatherspoon is GRANTED a conditional writ of habeas corpus, releasing him, unless the state trial court holds a bail hearing that comports with Due Process within 30 days of the issuance of the writ to determine whether continued detention is justified.

         I. Background

         Weatherspoon is charged with attempted first degree murder. He is alleged to have stabbed his girlfriend multiple times. (ECF No. 1-1 at 12, 15-16.) The General Sessions Court for Shelby County, Tennessee, set Weatherspoon's bail at $200, 000.[2] Weatherspoon filed for a writ of certiorari in the Criminal Court for Shelby County, seeking a bail reduction. (See ECF No. 1-1.)

         At the hearing before the Criminal Court, Weatherspoon called no witnesses. He submitted three exhibits: an affidavit of indigence, the General Sessions Court file, and the Pretrial Services Investigation Report. (Id. at 11-14.) The State of Tennessee (the “State”) presented the testimony of Sergeant Daniel Cordero of the Memphis Police Department. (Id. at 14.) Cordero testified that Weatherspoon had confessed to the crime. (Id. at 15.) Cordero testified that Weatherspoon had admitted chasing the victim down the street and stabbing her between 10 and 13 times. (Id.) Cordero testified that Weatherspoon had admitted seeking a weapon to kill the victim and another individual. (Id. at 16.) Cordero also testified that Weatherspoon had said “he wanted [the victim] to feel the pain he was feeling in his heart.” (Id. at 16.) The State submitted photographs of the victim's injuries after the attack. (Id. at 20-22.)

         After hearing the proof, the state trial court found, in open court, that the bail amount of $200, 000 was appropriate under Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-118. (Id. at 34.)

         Weatherspoon appealed the state trial court's decision to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals pursuant to Tenn. R. App. 8 and Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-11-144. (See ECF No. 1-2.) On May 11, 2017, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Weatherspoon's motion for reduction of pretrial bail. (Id.)

         Weatherspoon appealed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals to the Tennessee Supreme Court. (ECF No. 1-3.) On June 8, 2017, the Tennessee Supreme Court denied Weatherspoon's motion for reduction of pretrial bail. (ECF No. 1-4.)

         Weatherspoon then filed this § 2241 Petition. (ECF No. 1.)

         II. Legal Standard & Jurisdiction

         A. Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2241

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2241 authorizes a district court to entertain an application for the release of any person “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2241(c)(3). See Phillips v. Court of Common Pleas, 668 F.3d 804, 809 (6th Cir. 2012) (“We have long recognized that pretrial detainees pursue habeas relief instead under § 2241.”); Girts v. Yanai, 600 F.3d 576, 587 (6th Cir. 2010). The Sixth Circuit has held that a pretrial § 2241 habeas corpus petition is a proper vehicle to raise alleged constitutional violations of the right to bail pending trial. Atkins v. People of State of Mich., 644 F.2d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 1981).

         A petitioner who seeks relief under § 2241 is entitled to de novo review of the state court proceedings. Phillips, 668 F.3d at 810. All habeas petitioners, including those who proceed under § 2241, must exhaust available state-court remedies before proceeding in federal court, “and this usually requires that they appeal an adverse decision all the way to the state's court of last resort.” Id. (citing Klein v. Leis, 548 F.3d 425, 429 n.2 (6th Cir. 2008)).

         Weatherspoon has exhausted his available state-court remedies. (See ECF Nos. 1-2 - 1-4.) The state trial court's decision is reviewed de novo.

         B. Due Process Clause

         The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, in part, that “[n]o person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law[.]” Due Process has two components: substantive and procedural. Substantive due process “prohibits States from infringing fundamental liberty interests, unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 593 (2003) (citing Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997)). Procedural due process guarantees fair procedure. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125 (1990). “Procedural due process rules are meant to protect persons not from the deprivation, but from the mistaken or unjustified deprivation of life, liberty, or property.” Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 259 (1978).

         The essential elements of a procedural due process claim under the Fifth Amendment are: “(1) a life, liberty, or property interest requiring protection under the Due Process Clause, and (2) a deprivation of that interest (3) without adequate process.” Fields v. Henry Cnty., Tenn., 701 F.3d 180, 185 (6th Cir. 2012); see Thompson v. Ashe, 250 F.3d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 2001) (citing LRL Properties v. Portage Metro Hous. Auth., 55 F.3d 1097, 1108 (6th Cir. 1995)). Neither party disputes that the right to pretrial release is a protected liberty interest or that Weatherspoon has been deprived of that right.

         Due process of law does not guarantee any specific type of procedure. Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600, 610 (1974). “[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 334 (1976) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Neinast v. Bd. of Tr. of Columbus Metro. Library, 346 F.3d 585, 597 (6th Cir. 2003). To determine whether a particular procedure complies with due process, courts apply the three-part balancing test stated in Mathews:

[I]dentification of the specific dictates of due process generally requires consideration of three distinct factors. First, the private interest that will be affected by the official action; second, the risk of erroneous deprivation of such interest through the procedures used, and the probable value, if any, of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and finally, the Government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirements would entail.

Mathews, 424 U.S. at 335.

         C. Equal Protection Clause

         The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the government from denying individuals equal protection of the laws. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. The Equal Protection Clause may be invoked to analyze governmental actions that draw distinctions based on specific characteristics or impinge on an individual's exercise of a fundamental right. See, e.g., Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535 (1942); Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000); Superior Commc'ns v. City of Riverview, Michigan, No. 17-1234, 2018 WL 651382, at *10 (6th Cir. Feb. 1, 2018) (“The Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination by the government that ‘burdens a fundamental right, targets a suspect class, or intentionally treats one differently than others similarly situated without any rational basis for the difference.'” (quoting TriHealth, Inc. v. Bd. of Comm'rs, Hamilton Cty., 430 F.3d 783, 788 (6th Cir. 2005)).

         D. Tennessee Release from Custody and Bail ...

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