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3rd Cir. Actually Grant Habeas Petition in Immigration Case

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 13, 2015 3:57 PM

Thanks to the difficulty imposed by Congress in AEDPA, it's more likely that you'll see a unicorn tap dance with Lieutenant Dan than you'll see a federal court actually grant a state prisoner's federal habeas petition -- and that you'll see a circuit court of appeals sustain the petition.

Well, someone call Gary Sinise, because the Third Circuit granted Jose Juan Chavez-Alvarez's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Chavez-Alvarez claimed the government violated his due process rights detaining him without a bond hearing since 2012. Reversing the district court, the Third Circuit agreed.

A Long Time in Detention

Chavez-Alvarez, late of the U.S. Army, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2000 following a court martial for giving false official statement, sodomy, and violating the general article (which is to maintain "good order and discipline"). After 13 months, he was released.

Then ICE caught up with him. Even though Chavez-Alvarez was a lawful permanent resident, he was charged with being removable due to his conviction for an aggravated felony. He was detained in York County Prison without bond starting in June 2012 ... where he's been ever since. "The total number of days that Chavez-Alvarez has been held in civil detention since his arrest, of itself, gives us reason for pause," the Second Circuit said.

Just Hold a Bond Hearing, Already

In 1996, Congress expanded the range of crimes for which the government could detain convicted aliens without bond; indeed, these crimes don't allow a court to release them on bond at all. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized this authority as legitimate, but the Third Circuit said that authority wasn't limitless.

In Demore v. Kim, the High Court upheld the constitutionality of the provision authorizing detention without bond, but Justice Kennedy cautioned that the longer an unreasonable delay in the deportation the proceedings, the more necessary it could become "to inquire whether the detention is not to facilitate deportation, or to protect against risk of flight or dangerousness, but to incarcerate for other reasons."

The government argued that its handling of the case was reasonable so far and any delay was due to Chavez-Alvarez unnecessarily lengthening the proceedings, though it was very careful to skirt the line suggesting that Chavez-Alvarez defending himself against deportation was the reason for the delay. It would be true, the Third Circuit said, that the delay would be reasonable if an alien were "gaming the system," but the court said that wasn't present here. Chavez-Alvarez raised several issues that caused delays in the proceedings, but those issues weren't frivolous.

So was his detention unduly long? The immigration judge issued an order nine months after the government detained Chavez-Alvarez. At the very least, the Third Circuit said, he would at least be entitled to a bond hearing at that time, as "reviewing Chavez-Alvarez's detention would not have put the Government in a disadvantaged position to make its case."

After the one-year mark, the court said, "the burdens to Chavez-Alvarez's liberties outweighed any justification for using presumptions to detain him without bond to further the goals of the statute." While the Third Circuit didn't order Chavez-Alvarez released on bond, it did order the government to conduct a hearing within 10 days to see if it was still necessary to detain him.

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