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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Pann v. Warren, No. 5:08-CV-13806, 2010 WL 2836879 (E.D. Mich. July 19, 2010) (slip copy)

July 29, 2010

In a habeas corpus proceeding, the victims of petitioner’s crime filed a motion to intervene pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 and to be heard under the Crime Victim’s Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771 In their motion, the victims argued that they were entitled to intervene in the habeas action because, as family members of the murder victim, they had a property interest in the restitution order resulting from petitioner’s state convictions. 

As an initial matter, the court concluded that the victims were not entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Rule 24(a) or permissively under Rule 24(b).  Specifically, the court found that: 1) the victims’ motion was untimely, having been filed “more than a year and three months after the habeas petition was filed”; 2) the motion’s purpose of enforcing a restitution order did not fit within the purposes of habeas review; 3) there was no indication that the victims were unaware of petitioner’s habeas filing for a period of time or were unable to learn of the same in a timely manner; and 4) the existing parties would be prejudiced by the late intervention as they would be required to submit additional pleadings and endure further delay.  The court further found that assuming the victims had a substantial legal interest in the case and their ability to protect that interest would be impaired in the absence of intervention, they had failed to show that respondent (the government) would be unable to adequately protect their interests.  The court also concluded that the victims were not entitled to intervene permissively under Rule 24(b) because in addition to the timeliness problem, the victims “present[ed] no common questions of law or fact in this action.”  The court added, “[a]ny interest [the victims] may have in a state court restitution order is not cognizable in a federal habeas proceeding.” 

Finally, the court considered the application of the CVRA to the habeas proceeding.  The court first acknowledged that the victims were entitled to the rights provided them under the CVRA’s habeas provisions, including “the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.”  The court then found that “the court’s consideration of this habeas case in chambers … constitute[d] a ‘public proceeding in the district court involving release,’” adding that “to preclude crime victims from submitting documents to the court in support of their right to be heard in a habeas proceeding would effectively preclude them from being heard at all in most cases.”  Thus, the court concluded, the victims had a right to be heard under the CVRA and the court would, therefore, accept their documents for review with that limited purpose in mind.  Accordingly, the court denied the victims’ motion to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24, but granted their request to be heard under the CVRA.