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Howell v. Childrey

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 11, 2019

CRUZ HOWELL, Petitioner,



         This matter comes before the Court on petitioner Cruz Howell's petitions for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. For the reasons discussed below, the petitions will be summarily dismissed.


         Petitioner is a Missouri state pretrial detainee, presently incarcerated at the St. Louis County Justice Center. He has been charged with two counts of domestic assault in the second degree. State of Missouri v. Howell, No. 18SL-CR05526-01 (21st Judicial Cir., St. Louis County).[1] The information was filed on August 9, 2018. The case is currently scheduled for a settlement conference on February 25, 2019.

         On January 18, 2019, petitioner filed a document with the Court entitled "Motion for Writ of Habeas Corpus," which requests relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2241. (Docket No. 1). This document is handwritten and not on a Court-provided form. In the petition, petitioner states that he has a right to a speedy trial pursuant to the Sixth Amendment, and that if the state cannot provide him a trial "per [the] 180 day rule, all charges against the accused must be dismissed with prejudice." He further claims that the state is attempting to violate his right to a speedy trial by setting a trial beyond the 180-day time limit.[2] As the state cannot provide him with a speedy trial, he asserts that his case must be dismissed.

         On February 4, 2019, petitioner filed a second petition for writ of habeas corpus under § 2241, this time using a Court-provided form. (Docket No. 4). In this petition, petitioner asserts eight grounds for relief. Grounds one through five are identical to the speedy trial claims raised in his handwritten petition, with the exception that he now refers to the "120 day rule" rather than the "180 day rule." Ground six claims that the state court has imposed excessive bail. Ground seven states that petitioner was not allowed furlough to attend his grandfather's funeral. Finally, ground eight refers to petitioner's inability to attend a protection order hearing because he was in custody.


         Petitioner seeks to have his state criminal charges dismissed due to an alleged violation of his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment and the so-called "120 day rule" or "180 day rule." He also complains of excessive bail, his inability to attend his grandfather's funeral, and his inability to attend a protection order hearing. For the reasons discussed below, the Court must summarily dismiss the petitions.

         Habeas corpus is generally a post-conviction remedy. See Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 59 (1968). See also Jones v. Perkins, 245 U.S. 390, 391 (1918) (stating that 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 trial"). However, a state court defendant attempting to litigate the authority of his or her pretrial detention may bring a habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241. See Walck v. Edmondson, 472 F.3d 1227, 1235 (10th Cir. 2007) (stating "that a state court defendant attacking his pretrial detention should bring a habeas petition pursuant to the general grant of habeas authority contained within 28 U.S.C. § 2241"); and Dicker son v. State of Louisiana, 816 F.2d 220, 224 (5th Cir. 1987) (stating that pretrial petitions "are properly brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, which applies to persons in custody regardless of whether final judgment has been rendered and regardless of the present status of the case pending against him"). As such, a § 2241 petition is the appropriate method for petitioner to attack his case on speedy trial grounds and to contest his bond.

         A. Speedy trial claims

         In both his first and second petitions, petitioner asserts that his case should be dismissed because his right to a speedy trial pursuant to the Sixth Amendment[3] of the United States Constitution and the Missouri Constitution has been violated. The crux of his contention resides in what he refers to as the "180 day rule" in his handwritten petition, and the "120 day rule" in the petition filed on a Court form. According to petitioner, this rule provides that his case must be brought within either 120 days or 180 days of his arrest or be dismissed. Since that period has elapsed in his criminal case, he believes that dismissal with prejudice is required.

         To begin, it is clear that petitioner is attempting to obtain relief using an outdated version of the Missouri Speedy Trial Act. Prior to its repeal on June 7, 1984, Missouri law provided that when "a plea of not guilty is entered at an arraignment the trial shall commence within one hundred eighty days of arraignment." See State v. Bolin, 643 S.W.2d 806, 810 n.3 (Mo. 1983) (providing statutory language). The current, operative version of the Speedy Trial Act does not have a 120-day or 180-day requirement. See State v. Engel, 859 S.W.2d 822, 830-31 (Mo.Ct.App. 1993) (stating that the current "statute sets no deadline, and certainly not a deadline of 180 days"). Indeed, it does not contain a time period at all. Rather, the act provides that "[i]f defendant announces he is ready for trial and files a request for a speedy trial, then the court shall set the case for trial as soon as reasonably possible thereafter." Mo. Rev. Stat. § 545.780(1). Thus, to the extent that petitioner is proposing that there has been a violation of a strict statutory deadline, whether that is 120 or 180 days, he is mistaken.

         Furthermore, with regards to the current version of the Missouri Speedy Trial Act, the Court is unable to grant petitioner relief. Federal courts do "not have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § issue a writ of habeas corpus for violation of state law by state authorities." Cain v. Petrovsky, 798 F.2d 1194, 1195 (8th Cir. 1986). Rather, such claims based on state law and the actions of state officials must be addressed by a state court. Id. See also Matthews v. Lockhart, 726 F.2d 394, 396 (8th Cir. 1984) (stating that in the context of a § 2254 habeas petition, the "question of whether the state violated its own speedy trial statute is a matter for the state courts"). For these reasons, petitioner's speedy trial claim based on Missouri's Speedy Trial Act must be dismissed.

         With regards to petitioner's Sixth Amendment claim, federal courts should not interfere, absent extraordinary circumstances, with a state's "pending judicial processes prior to trial and conviction, even though a prisoner claims he is being held in violation of the Constitution." Sacco v. Falke,649 F.2d 634, 636 (8th Cir. 1981). To that end, when a state prisoner is seeking pretrial habeas relief on the basis of speedy trial issues, the prisoner is required to exhaust state remedies, unless the prisoner can demonstrate the existence of special circumstances. See Braden v. 30th Judicial Circuit Court of Kentucky, 410 U.S. 484, 489 (1973) (stating 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 judgement of conviction by a state court"); Atkins v. People of the State of Michigan,644 F.2d 543, 546 (6th Cir. 1981) (stating that the doctrine of exhaustion of state remedies is meant to protect state courts' opportunity to confront and resolve constitutional issues within their jurisdictions, and is especially important in a speedy trial claim, where the relief granted usually results in dismissal of the case); Neville v. Cavanagh,611 F.2d 673, 675 (7th Cir. 1979) (stating that federal courts are reluctant to grant pretrial habeas relief, and that in the interest of comity between federal and state courts, petitioner must first exhaust his state remedies, absent a showing of "special circumstances"); and Moore v. DeYoung,515 F.2d 437, 446 (3r Cir. 1975) (stating that speedy trial issues require state ...

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