Case Caption: Ruben Rivera-Moreno v. Government of the Virgin IslandsCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2014-0010Date: 09/26/2014Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

In ruling on a habeas corpus petition by an inmate tried in 1991 on charges of first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon, escape, and weapons offenses, the Superior Court erred in converting the petition into a motion for new trial or judgment or acquittal, since Virgin Islands law authorizes habeas corpus remedies other than discharge from custody when a prisoner demonstrates that his incarceration is unlawful. The Government has conceded that at petitioner's murder trial a juror who was excused by the court for cause because he had made up his mind that the defendants were guilty, an impermissible bias, nonetheless remained in the courtroom and was inadvertently seated on the final jury by the clerk, and actually participated in the deliberations convicting petitioner on all charges. The Government has waived any challenge to purported technical defects in the present petition, and cannot seek dismissal solely on the ground that petitioner could have, but did not, raise these issues as part of his earlier direct appeal of the convictions, two decades ago. The fact that the District Court found petitioner guilty of both local and federal offenses as part of the same proceeding does not preclude him from seeking, and the Superior Court from ordering, a new trial solely on the local charges. The Superior Court clearly erred when it denied the writ of habeas corpus on the grounds that petitioner failed to prove that a juror excused for bias actually sat on the jury that convicted him. The Government actively provided the Superior Court with evidence conclusively establishing this fact, which constitutes a structural error mandating reversal without regard to whether that error was harmless. Petitioner has therefore demonstrated entitlement to habeas relief. The January 9, 2014 order is reversed and this matter is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may grant the habeas corpus petition, vacate the portion of the December 18, 1991 judgment and commitment adjudicating petitioner guilty of first-degree murder and other local charges, and order a new trial on the local charges, if the Government be so advised.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion