Back in 2010, the Second Circuit took the unusual step of granting a petitioner's request to file a second or successive habeas petition. In addition to granting the request, the case was notable because the court issued a published opinion in which it interpreted, for the first time, certain aspects of the second or successive authorization provision.
Now, in the district court, the case has taken an unusual and fascinating turn.
Just to briefly go over the relevant facts again, petitioner was convicted of murder based primarily on the testimony of Sixto Salcedo. However, Salcedo later recanted. In addition, another person, Freddy Caraballo, had come forward and stated that petitioner had not been the one who pulled the trigger.
At a hearing in state court, Salcedo testified that contrary to his trial testimony, he had not seen the shooter's face. He also testified that, prior to the trial, a time when he was on parole, a detective had told him that he had to testify against Quezada or else he would put him away for 10 years. Salcedo also testified that the detective kept him confined in a hotel during the trial.
Turning back to the habeas part of the case . . .
In December 2010, after the Second Circuit granted authorization, petitioner filed a habeas petition in EDNY raising two claims (and these are taken directly from the habeas petition): (1) "The use of perjured testimony to secure Mr. Quezada's conviction violated his right to due process"; and (2) "The State's failure to disclose the coercive conditions under which Sixto Salcedo testified at trial violated Mr. Quezada's right to due process."
The case is now called Quezada v. Brown, 08-CV-5088 (EDNY) (KAM).
Shortly after filing the petition, petitioner moved for discovery. Discovery in habeas cases does not happen all that often. It is governed by Rule 6 of the Rules Governing Habeas Corpus Cases Under Section 2254 (yes, those rules exist and that is the actual full name of the rules; I'll just say RGHCCUS2254 from here on out).
The rule allows for discovery with leave of the court if good cause is shown. The request for discovery must be specific and provide the reasons for the request. It also must include "any proposed interrogatories and requests for admission, and must specify any requested documents." The Supreme Court has stated that this rule was intended to effectuate its 1969 decision in Harris v. Nelson, in which it stated, "where specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that the petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that he is ... entitled to relief, it is the duty of the court to provide the necessary facilities and procedures for an adequate inquiry."
Here is where the case took a really unusual turn. In response to the discovery request, the State acknowledged for the first time that it possessed documents that actually supported Salcedo's claims about his pre-trial conditions as a witness. Specifically, the State acknowledged that they had documents showing that they did seek and obtain a material witness order for Salcedo. In addition (and even more shockingly in my mind), the State admitted that they had excerpts from a log book entitled "Hotel Custody."
So, in response to the discovery motion, the State completely validated the reasons for why discovery should occur! These documents provided corroboration for Salcedo's prior testimony in the hearing. As a lawyer, it is just so rare to see your adversary make your arguments look even better than they were when you started.
In his reply, petitioner explained exactly why these admissions were just so shocking. Back in the state court proceeding where Salcedo made all of his claims about his pre-trial conditions, the State argued that his testimony was incredible. But these documents tend to show that they were far from incredible. More like pretty credible. The documents, as petitioner points out, strongly suggests that the State may have other stuff to validate Salcedo's claims.
In response to the motion, the DJ held oral argument last Tuesday. Someone recently asked me if oral argument in the district court is rare in habeas corpus cases. It's a good question. I have previously noted that Judge Gleeson in EDNY holds oral argument on almost every petition. But outside of that judge, in my experience, it is pretty rare to see a DJ or MJ hold oral argument in a habeas case.
And the big news is that, as reflected on the docket sheet, the judge granted the motion for discovery at the end of the hearing, "subject to petitioner narrowing and specifying his requests to the extent possible." That qualification seems consistent with RGHCCUS2254 Rule 6.
So an interesting twist in an already groundbreaking case. So far, the district court proceedings have more than validated the Second Circuit's decision to grant authorization. I will be keeping a close eye on this case.