3.4.4 – Procedural History and Procedural Posture


Procedural History and Procedural Posture

Procedural History

All happenings as legal process commences till status quo

Let's go on. We've done the facts, which is basically the stuff that happens before the legal process starts, and now let's do what I'm going to call the procedural history that's going to really also lead into the procedural posture of the case. Think of this as all the stuff that happens once the legal process gets going. This can look simple, it can look really complicated, but either way, it's going to be really helpful for you to understand this because it's going to help you understand the precise legal issue in the case.

In some cases, you read to really understand what's going on in the case procedurally. You might have to diagram something. As an example, if you can imagine what's called a "federal habeas case." This is a case where someone who is convicted of a crime in a state court goes to a federal court and says, "Hey, my state court proceedings were unconstitutional. Can you let me out of prison?"

In a case like that, the procedural history could be incredibly complicated. The person could have had a criminal trial, could have had a series of state appeals, could have gone to the Supreme Court of the United States once, could have gone back to a state post-conviction court that could have gone all the way through the court system. Then could have gone all the way through the federal habeas system.

So, the case could have touched 9, 10, 11, 12 courts before it even gets to the court that's issuing the opinion that you're reading. Often it's going to be a little simpler than that. Sometimes if you're reading, let's say, an opinion that's from a trial court that's on a motion to dismiss, or something like that, the procedural history is person A sued person B, and person B asked the district court to dismiss, and the district court wrote an opinion. Super, super simple.

Whether it's simple, whether it's complicated, try to make sure you understand, how did we get here? What happened at every step of the process starting at the very beginning? Let's say if it's a criminal case starting at maybe the defendant getting arrested or charges being brought by a prosecutor versus getting to the court that we are now in. If you can't explain why we're there, you have a problem. Sometimes there's weird things that happen. The case starts out in state court, ends up in federal court. Try to make sure that makes sense to you.

Let's look at Jewell to try to figure that out. As always, we're going to use this example. In Jewell, we talked about the stuff that happened before defendant's arrest. Defendant crosses the border with marijuana concealed in the car, and then defendant has the story about how he ended up there, the story being that someone asked him to do this but he didn't really know, he claims, what was in the car. But then he gets arrested.

He gets arrested and he gets charged with a couple of criminal statutes. Knowingly bringing marijuana into the United States in violation of 21 USC Section 952[a], that's a federal statute. That's a citation to a federal statute, the same way a kind of a case citation. USC means the United States Code, and that's section symbol, so that's Section 952[a] in Volume 21 of the United States Code, which is the volume of the code that contains all the drug offenses.

He's also charged with knowingly possessing marijuana in violation of 21 USC Section 841[a][1]. What happens after that? He's charged, then it turns out that there's a jury trial. Is there a sentence in the facts section that says the next thing that happens is that there was a jury trial? No, there's no one clear sentence that says that, but we can infer that because the court starts talking about testimony and the court mentions conclusions the jury could have drawn. Then what happens? This is critically important because it's going to tie in to the legal issue.

Then there's a dispute. There's a dispute that happens in trial court and it's a dispute about jury instructions. The defendant wants a certain jury instruction. They'll just say, to find him guilty, the jury has to find that he knew he was in possession of marijuana. Trial judge says, "No, I don't like that. I'm going to give them a slightly different instruction," and says a number of things most critically important, one of which is that the government can complete their burden of proof by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that if the defendant was not actually aware that there was marijuana in the vehicle he was driving when he entered the United States, his ignorance in that regard was solely and entirely a result of his having made a conscious purpose to disregard the nature of that which was in the vehicle with a conscious purpose to avoid learning the truth.

Then we see the jury convicted Jewell and this appeal followed. Note that part is in brackets. That's actually text that I've inserted to help provide a little bit of signposting and simplify some other things. You'll often see that, depending on where your casebook author will have inserted some things there to help you understand and maybe distill a little bit.

Procedural Posture

History and status quo of case

Our procedural posture is now we're in an appellate court. It's an appeal from a criminal conviction at a jury trial, and the thing that the court told us, which looks like it's going to be important, is there was this disagreement about the jury instructions, and about the jury instructions that relate to the knowledge required. That tells us where the case has been and it tells us where the case is. That's what we mean by procedural posture. How did this case get here? Where is the case right now? Well, it's in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Why is it here? It's here because it's an appeal of a criminal conviction. If you understand that much, it's going to help you understand everything that's going to follow after that.

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