Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hakuna Watada

On Thursday, the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington issued a preliminary injunction stopping the court-martial proceeding in United States v. Watada. Watada v. Head, No. C07-549BHS. A copy of the court's 33-page opinion and order is available on NIMJ's web site here.

Judge Settle finds that 1LT Watada is likely "to succeed on the merits of his double jeopardy claim because the military judge abused his discretion in rejecting [a confessional stipulation] midway through the trial on the same information upon which he [originally] accepted it, and there was no manifest necessity for calling a mistrial, and that the record does not reflect that reasonable alternatives to calling a mistrial were explored or entertained." Id., slip op. at 22.

In concluding that it is appropriate for an Article III court to consider 1LT Watada's claim while military proceedings are ongoing, Judge Settle emphasized that both ACCA and CAAF had declined to grant extraordinary relief. Judge Settle reasoned, "Under these circumstances, where Petitioner has exhausted his military court remedies on the issue of double jeopardy, allowing the second court martial to go forward would not aid the military in developing the facts, applying the law, or correcting their own errors. The military courts have already had their opportunity to develop the facts, apply the law, and to correct their own errors, and the pending court martial will not address any of the issued raised by this petition." Id., slip op. at 14.

One of the most interesting portions of the opinion concerned the proper standard of review for habeas claims challenging court-martial proceedings. Judge Settle wrote: "Because AEDPA does not apply to petitions under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, pre-AEDPA standards govern this Court's review: determinations of law are reviewed de novo and findings of fact are presumed to be correct. Hoyle v. Ada County, 501 F.3d 1053, 1059 (9th Cir. 2007)." Id., slip op. at 19.

Judge Settle's opinion is uncommonly undeferential and anti-abstention. An order issuing a preliminary injunction is immediately appealable. See 28 U.S.C. § 1292(a)(1). Stay tuned for further developments.


Anonymous said...

A most interesting decision, to say the least, which points to how the prosecution of 1LT Watada has only assisted him in his proposed martyrdom. [Compare, for example the case of sailor Paredes, whose martyrdom was limited by the USN trial judge].

It will be interesting to see how this does at the 9th Circuit. Watada may find the 9th Cir. less favorable.

The review of law in the case does tend to confirm JO'C's observations about the timeline of the decisions being a better reflection of how civilian courts address military cases that an artificial analysis of results.

BTW,Watada's civilian counsel at the District Ct. was Jim Lobenz of Seattle, a very competent civilian attorney, with experience in litigating military cases before the civilian courts.

John O'Connor said...

Wow, somebody reads my crap.

Anonymous said...

I think Judge Settle got it right (not from the view of deference, but from a de novo legal perspective). What John Head did in declaring the mistrial was either fundamentally stupid or was contrived to benefit the government given the anecdotal evidence I heard about how the panel was accepting (or not accepting) the government's evidence in the case. And given the likely makeup of a panel on the 9th Circuit, I'd expect him to be affirmed there.

Maybe this case opens the possibility for the U.S. Supreme Court to re-look at Burns and clarify the standard of review in the military habeas context and what "full and fair consideration" means. Which would be a good thing.