The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hagos v. Raemisch on Tuesday, December 29, 2015.
Abraham Hagos is incarcerated in Colorado state prison for multiple convictions stemming from two prosecutions. In the first case, he was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and two counts of retaliation against a witness (the murder case). In the second, he was convicted of first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary, felony menacing, and conspiracy (the kidnapping case). He is serving two consecutive life sentences, one from each case. Hagos appealed his convictions in the kidnapping case, which were affirmed on direct appeal by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Colorado and United States supreme courts denied certiorari. Hagos then sought state post-conviction relief, which was denied by the district court, court of appeals, and supreme court. He then filed a federal § 2254 petition, which the district court dismissed, concluding it did not satisfy the Article III case or controversy requirement. The district court issued a COA on this issue.
Hagos also appealed his convictions in the murder case. The Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed on direct appeal, and the Colorado and United States supreme courts again denied certiorari. Hagos filed a § 2254 petition in the murder case, which the district court denied. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the matter after denying Hagos’ request for a COA. Hagos then filed a post-conviction motion in state court, which is still pending.
Hagos’ § 2254 petition was pending in the Tenth Circuit when he filed his § 2254 petition in the kidnapping case. The district court sua sponte ordered Hagos to show cause why the kidnapping case proceedings should not be stayed pending the outcome of the murder case proceedings. The court evaluated the “in custody” requirement for habeas relief and decided that even if it invalidated the kidnapping convictions, Hagos would remain incarcerated for life due to the murder convictions. The district court concluded that if granting habeas relief in Hagos’ kidnapping case would not reduce his confinement, the Article III case or controversy requirement was not satisfied. The district court disagreed with Hagos’ arguments against the stay and enforced it during the pendency of the proceedings in the murder case. After the Tenth Circuit dismissed Hagos’ petition and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, the district court dismissed Hagos’ § 2254 petition in the kidnapping case for the same reasons it outlined in its stay order.
The Tenth Circuit conducted a de novo review of the district court’s dismissal of Hagos’ § 2254 petition. The Tenth Circuit first noted that Hagos is “in custody” for Article III purposes because his two life sentences run consecutively, following Supreme Court precedent that explains that consecutive sentences are to be treated as a continuous stream. The Tenth Circuit found the district court’s reliance on a different case misplaced, since that ruling only affected expired concurrent sentences. The Tenth Circuit further explained that Hagos’ petition satisfied the case or controversy requirement because even though providing habeas relief in the kidnapping case would not affect the duration of his sentence, it could affect his prisoner level and availability of certain prison programs.
The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for consideration of Hagos’ § 2254 petition.