United States v. Denedo

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Jacob Denedo
LOCATION: Apartment Complex

DOCKET NO.: 08-267
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

CITATION: 556 US (2009)
GRANTED: Nov 25, 2008
ARGUED: Mar 25, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 08, 2009

ADVOCATES:
Matthew S. Freedus - argued the cause for the respondent
Pratik A. Shah - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

In July 1998, a United States Navy court-martial tried Jacob Denedo on counts of conspiracy, larceny, and forgery. In exchange for his guilty plea, Mr. Denedo was offered a reduced sentence that included three months of confinement, a demotion, and a bad-conduct discharge. Eight years later, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began proceedings to deport Mr. Denedo, a Nigerian immigrant and lawful permanent resident of the United States, based on his court-martial conviction. In light of these developments, Mr. Denedo filed a petition with the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals for extraordinary relief and requested review of his court-martial and a writ of error coram nobis in order to achieve his pre-conviction state. He argued that his counsel at the court-martial was ineffective because he had specifically stated during the proceeding that "his primary concern and objective" was "to avoid the risk of deportation" and was less concerned about the amount of time he spent in prison. At the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, the government motioned to dismiss Mr. Denedo's petition on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter. The court disagreed and found it had jurisdiction as provided by 28 U.S.C. Section 1651 - the All Writs Act. It then denied Mr. Denedo's petition. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces agreed that the Court of Criminal Appeals had jurisdiction to review the petition, but remanded the matter to the Court of Criminal Appeals for further fact finding in order to determine whether Mr. Denedo's counsel was deficient.

Question

Does the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals retain jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1651, the All Writs Act, to consider a writ of error coram nobis sought by a former service member?

Media for United States v. Denedo

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 25, 2009 in United States v. Denedo

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 08, 2009 in United States v. Denedo

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The second case for announcement that I have is 08-267, United States versus Denedo.

And this case requires us to determine the jurisdiction of an Article I military tribunal to entertain a petition for a writ of coram nobis.

Respondent, Jacob Denedo, is a native Nigeria serving in the United States Navy and he was charged with defrauding the community college in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

With counsel's assistance, Denedo agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges before a special court-martial that convicted him and sentenced to three months confinement.

After the special court-martial, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, which I'll just refer to as the Navy Marine Court, affirmed his conviction.

Respondent was discharged from the Navy in 2000.

In the year 2006, the Department of Homeland Security commenced removal proceedings against respondent based on his conviction before the special court-martial.

To avoid deportation, he filed a petition for writ of coram nobis under the authority of the All Writs Act.

He asked the Navy Marine Court to vacate the conviction on the ground that his guilty plea resulted from ineffective assistance of counsel.

Respondent alleged that counsel had assured him erroneously as it turned out that a guilty plea would not subject him to deportation proceedings.

The Navy Marine Court determined that it had jurisdiction to issue the writ but it declined to do so.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the Navy Marine Court's jurisdictional holding but reversed this decision on the merits.

The Court of Appeals remanded for the Navy Marine Court to determine if respondent was entitled to coram nobis, in other words, both the Navy Marine Court and the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces held that you could issue a writ of -- the Court could issue a writ of coram nobis in appropriate circumstances.

Now before deciding the subject matter jurisdiction of the military courts, we first address our own.

This Court has statutory jurisdiction to review Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces decisions where that Court granted relief and respondent's case falls within that statutory standard.

Turning to the underlying question presented, we hold that Article I military courts do have jurisdiction to entertain coram nobis petitions.

They can consider allegations that an earlier judgment of conviction was flawed.

Coram nobis is an ancient common law remedy that allows a court to correct the fundamental legal or factual early -- error from an earlier proceeding.

A military court's jurisdiction to issue this extraordinary writ and any other relief for that matter is determined by the Congress.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice provides jurisdiction for the Navy Marine Court to review court-martial cases.

Because respondent's coram nobis request is simply a further step in his criminal appeal, that court's jurisdiction to issue the writ derives from its earlier jurisdiction over his appeal from the special court-martial conviction.

Once the Navy Marine Court found that it had jurisdiction to entertain respondent's petition for coram nobis, the Court of Appeals had jurisdiction to review that conclusion.

Our holding is a limited one.

We express no opinion on the merits of respondent's request for coram nobis but we do reiterate that extraordinary relief should be obvious.

This is reserved for extraordinary cases.

We conclude only that Article I military courts have jurisdiction to entertain petitions for coram nobis.

With that understanding, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is affirmed. The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito have joined.