Case Caption: Jensen Alexander v. People of the Virgin IslandsCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2015-0018Date: 12/06/2016Author: Cabret, Maria M. Citation: Summary:

The Superior Court erred in summarily dismissing a habeas corpus petition without a hearing. The obligation to serve the governmental respondents lies with the Superior Court under 5 V.I.C. § 1306, and thus the petitioner himself had no obligation to serve the respondents with process upon filing the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Because issuance of the writ is an intermediate step and does not address the underlying merits of the petition's allegations, the petitioner was not required to establish his ultimate entitlement to relief and the Superior Court erred in reaching the merits of his claims on the allegations in his petition. The ineffective assistance of counsel claim in the petition was not procedurally barred and was properly presented. Accordingly, the Superior Court erred in summarily denying the petition without giving the petitioner an opportunity to prove his allegations at an evidentiary hearing as mandated by Virgin Islands law in 5 V.I.C. §§ 1308 through 1311. The Superior Court's order of January 27, 2015 is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings. Addressing issues likely to recur on remand, it is held that - while a habeas corpus petitioner has no constitutional right to counsel - the Superior Court has discretion to appoint counsel. The Superior Court also erred in denying a motion for recusal of the trial judge on the ground that the same judge presided over the petitioner's criminal trial. Under 4 V.I.C. § 284 the question is not whether the judge is impartial in fact but whether impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Accordingly, that portion of the Superior Court's order denying the recusal motion is also reversed and it is directed that on remand this case be assigned to another Superior Court judge for further proceedings as provided herein.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion