Opinion Recap: US v. Denedo
on Jun 10, 2009 at 2:32 pm
Former clinic student and recent Stanford Law School graduate Josh Friedman discusses Monday’s decision in US v. Denedo.
By a vote of five to four, the Court held that both the Navy-Marine Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) and Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) had jurisdiction to review respondent Jacob Denedoâ€™s petition for a writ of error coram nobis.
The Court unanimously agreed that it possessed jurisdiction to hear the governmentâ€™s appeal of the CAAFâ€™s decision. The Court reasoned that the CAAFâ€™s opinion constituted clear â€œreliefâ€ for the purposes of a proper appeal before the Supreme Court as authorized by 18 U.S.C. Â§ 1259(4).
The Justices disagreed, however, about the proper disposition of Mr. Denedoâ€™s petition. A five-Justice majority, in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, held that military courts have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of coram nobis. The majority reasoned that because the NMCCA had statutory subject-matter jurisdiction over appeals stemming from Mr. Denedoâ€™s original court-martial conviction, the court also could hear a coram nobis appeal, because under United States v. Morgan such an appeal is â€œsimply a further â€˜step in [Mr. Denedoâ€™s] criminalâ€™ appeal.â€ Furthermore, the CAAF possessed jurisdiction over any appeal from an NMCCA decision regarding a writ of coram nobis. The Court explained that such an appeal would address the lower courtâ€™s finding of a â€œmatter of law,â€ which the CAAF is statutorily authorized to review. Therefore, and emphasizing that their opinion did not prejudge the merits of Mr. Denedoâ€™s claim, the majority affirmed the decision of the CAAF below and remanded the case for further proceedings on the merits of Mr. Denedoâ€™s petition.
Four Justices dissented. In an opinion authored by the Chief Justice, the dissenters argued that a petition for coram nobis is by its nature an appeal for postconviction review outside the â€œâ€˜narrowly circumscribedâ€™ statutory jurisdictionâ€ of military courts recognized by the Supreme Court in Clinton v. Goldsmith. Critically, the dissenters disagreed that coram nobis can be understood as an extension of the military courtsâ€™ original jurisdiction and instead concluded that the writ fell outside any congressionally prescribed jurisdiction.