Criminal Judges and Justices, Redux

In Criminal Judges and Judges, I described how my federal defender forced me to plead guilty and how the courts allowed him to get away with it. In A Criminal Prosecutor and Public Defender, I described how the defense and government attorneys, both federal employees, conspired to get me to plead guilty to kidnapping—even though they knew that there had been no kidnapping. I ended the latter with, “but my habeas proceedings were, possibly, worse.” Here’s what I meant.

To be guilty of violating the kidnapping statute, I had to “take” the alleged victim, “hold” her for some purpose, and transport her interstate. However, according to the court that ruled on my habeas petition,

Mr. Wells acknowledged that he made untrue representations to the victim in order to induce her to come to his house [this is a taking by inveiglement], that he did so to satisfy a plan or need of his own rather than to counsel or treat her [this is a purpose], and that he transported her from Connecticut to New Jersey [this is interstate transport] knowing it was against the law. Nothing more was required to ensure that Mr. Wells’s guilty plea was knowing and voluntary and was supported by an adequate factual basis. [p. 22 of the district court’s ruling]

It’s easy to see that the facts don’t equate to a kidnapping. A kidnapping requires the victim to be held and the facts don’t contain a holding. My plea should never have been accepted in the first place and, when I challenged it in my habeas corpus proceedings, it should have been set aside. However, the court didn’t see it that way.

A “holding” under § 1201(a)(1) implies an intent to restrain the victim’s movements contrary to her wishes. Chatwin v. United States, 326 U.S. 455, 460 (1946). In other words, a victim is “held” or detained when the defendant transports her without her consent. See United States v. McGrady, 191 F.2d 829 (7th Cir. 1951) (noting that the holding element of the statute can be achieved by mental as well as physical means); United States v. Lewis, 662 F.2d 1087, 1088 (4th Cir. 1981); United States v. McBryar, 553 F.2d 433, 434 (5th Cir. 1977). Where, as here, kidnapping is accomplished by inveigling, the “holding” is implicit in the kidnapping and transporting, since inveigling necessarily contemplates that the victim’s apparent consent was in fact obtained by deception. Cf. United States v. Sanford, 169 F.2d 71, 72 (8th Cir. 1948) (inveigling victim to eventually rob him implied that he had not given consent, although it appeared he had); United States v. Boone, 959 F.2d 1550, 1557 (11th Cir. 1992) (noting that an inveigled person cannot validly consent to be transported because the willingness to be transported is the result of the defendant’s deception). [p. 20-21]

The court misrepresented Chatwin. Chatwin said that a holding is an intentional restraint of a victim against his will, not “[a holding] implies an intent to restrain the victim’s movements contrary to her wishes.” That is, a holding requires an actual restraint, and an actual desire to be not restrained. (In fact, Chatwin concluded that the alleged victim in that case could not have been held because, first, she was persuaded that she ought to cohabit with her alleged kidnapper and, second, because she was free to come and go at will.) Moreover, Chatwin did not discuss the transport element at all, much less how lack of consent might interact with interstate transport to produce a holding.

The court asserted that, “In other words, a victim is ‘held’ or detained when the defendant transports her without her consent.” and then restated that as, “Where, as here, kidnapping is accomplished by inveigling, the ‘holding’ is implicit in the kidnapping and transporting, since inveigling necessarily contemplates that the victim’s apparent consent was in fact obtained by deception.” Although the court cited lots of cases, not one, from Chatwin on down, said anything even remotely like that. No court (other than this one) has ever allowed that merely inveigling someone across state lines could be a kidnapping. To the contrary, when courts have addressed the issue, such as in Chatwin and Boone, they have concluded explicitly that merely inveigling someone across a state line does not suffice for a kidnapping.

As I discussed in Criminal Judges and Judges, the court gave a similarly bogus justification for rejecting my claim that my lawyer’s failure to investigate required setting aside my guilty plea. I made many other claims, such as the claim that my lawyer failed to call to the court’s attention an error in the sentencing calculation that added almost two years to my prison term, which the court rejected on equally specious grounds. Either this judge of fifteen years experience was totally incompetent, impossible given her many other rulings on record, or she willfully twisted the law in order to deny a habeas petition that she knew the law required her to grant.

In order to appeal the denial of my habeas petition, I needed to get a certificate of appealability. To get one, I merely needed to show that reasonable jurists could debate the court’s ruling. That was easy to show for the claim I discussed here, as several courts have addressed the very same issue but came to diametrically opposed conclusions.

Well, the court refused to give me a certificate of appealability. No surprise there. The appeals court also did. Big surprise there. That, however, wasn’t the end.

When someone loses an appeal, he may ask the Supreme Court to review his case. Most of the time, the Supreme Court refuses to even look at it. However, once a habeas petitioner is denied a certificate of appealability by the lower courts, he has the option of applying to a Supreme Court justice for one. The justice must then actually look at the case and either grant or deny a certificate of appealability. In my case, I was clearly entitled to the certificate. However, Justice Ginsburg said no. Then I asked Justice Thomas, who handed my application off to the whole Supreme Court, which then said no.

In short, one district court judge, three appeals court judges, and at least five Supreme Court justices decided that they were above the law, so that they could preserve a conviction that they had to know was illegal. What happened to me had nothing to do with justice.

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