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Evans-Garcia v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 28, 2014

HAROLD EVANS-GARCIA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent. ERIC JOEL CARRIÓN-CRUZ, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

APPLICATIONS FOR LEAVE TO FILE A SECOND OR SUCCESSIVE MOTION UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 2255

Hector L. Ramos-Vegas, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Supervisor, Appeals Section, with whom Hector E. Guzman, Jr., Federal Public Defender, was on brief, for petitioners.

Robert A. Parker, Criminal Division, Appellate Section, United States Department of Justice, with whom Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, United States Attorney, District of Puerto Rico, Mythili Raman, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Nelson Pérez-Sosa, Chief, Appellate Division, United States Attorney's Office, and Denis J. McInerney, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, were on brief, for respondent.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Torruella and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

Harold Evans-García and Eric Joel Carrión-Cruz are each serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed when they were younger than eighteen years old. After each of them unsuccessfully exhausted a direct appeal and a petition for habeas relief, the United States Supreme Court decided Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012). In Miller, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution "forbids a sentencing scheme that mandates life in prison without possibility of parole for juvenile offenders." Miller, 132 S.Ct. at 2469. Evans-García and Carrión-Cruz each now wish to pursue a new habeas petition, this time attempting to employ Miller to secure a potential reduction in their sentences. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996), they cannot pursue their new petitions unless we first certify that the proposed petitions satisfy the requirements of an exception to what is otherwise a bar on second or successive habeas petitions. 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). For reasons described below, we grant certification to Evans-García but deny it to Carrión-Cruz.

I. Background

Evans-García's and Carrión-Cruz's crimes are described in our prior opinions. See United States v. Evans-García, 322 F.3d 110 (2003); United States v. Carrión-Cruz, 92 F.3d 5 (1996). In brief, they were each convicted of a carjacking resulting in death. Evans-García committed his crime in 1996, seven days before his eighteenth birthday, while Carrión-Cruz was fifteen years and six months old at the time of his crime in 1994.

At the time the petitioners were sentenced, the district court was bound to follow the federal sentencing guidelines, which had not yet been ruled advisory by the Supreme Court. See United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 259 (2005). Under the guidelines, the district court would first calculate an "offense level" between one and forty-three, and then place the defendant in one of six criminal history categories. See U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual §§ 1B1.1, 5A (2001). Based on the calculated offense level and criminal history category, the guidelines determined the applicable range within which the district court was required to fix a sentence. Id. The court could impose a sentence above or below the range only if it found facts supporting any of several specified grounds for departure. Id.

Evans-García's offense level and criminal history led to a range including just one sentence: life in prison without the possibility of parole. While the guidelines allowed for a potential downward departure from the otherwise mandated sentence for specified reasons not including youth, the court found none of those reasons applicable. For Carrión-Cruz, by contrast, the guidelines provided for a lower sentencing range of 292 to 365 months in prison, primarily because he pled guilty. However, due to the "sordid facts of the case, "[1] and even after considering the defendant's "youth and limited intellect, " the district court decided to depart upward from the guidelines, imposing a sentence of life without parole. Carrión-Cruz, 92 F.3d at 6.

II. Legal Standard

Like other federal prisoners seeking to file "second or successive" habeas petitions, Evans-García and Carrión-Cruz must obtain certification from a court of appeals before presenting their petitions to the district court. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h). In deciding whether to grant certification in the absence of any newly discovered evidence, we ask whether the petition "contain[s]... a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable." See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h)(2). We follow the procedural requirements laid out in section 2244, which governs state prisoners' petitions but is cross-referenced in the section applicable to federal prisoners such as the petitioners here. See 28 U.S.C. § 2255(h) ("A second or successive motion [by a federal prisoner] must be certified as provided in section 2244 . . . .").

Section 2244 specifies that the court of appeals should ask whether the "the application makes a prima facie showing" that it satisfies the applicable requirements. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(C). See also Tyler v. Cain, 533 U.S. 656, 664 (2001) ("[T]he court of appeals must determine whether the application 'makes a prima facie showing that [i]t satisfies the [second habeas standard].'" (second and third alterations in original) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(C)). We have previously held that a prima facie showing at the certification stage is "a sufficient showing of possible merit to warrant a fuller exploration by the district court." Rodriguez v. Superintendent, Bay State Corr. Ctr., 139 F.3d 270, 273 (1st Cir. 1998) (quoting Bennett v. United States, 119 F.3d 468, 469-70 (7th Cir. 1997)). In other words, our task is not to decide for certain whether the petition has merit, but rather to determine whether "it appears reasonably likely that the application satisfies the stringent requirements for the filing of a second or successive petition." Id. (quoting Bennett, 119 F.3d at 469-70).

Consistent with the statute and our precedent, we find good reason to refrain from a full inquiry at this stage, even on a purely legal issue such as retroactivity. We generally do not rule on questions--whether of fact or of law--until a district court has done so, Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 120 (1976), a practice that enhances the quality of our decisions both by allowing us to consider the district court's analysis and by allowing the parties to hone their arguments before presenting them to us. Moreover, in ruling on certification requests, we often must strive to move more quickly than a full consideration of the merits might reasonably require. See ...


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