Pass-through certifications by the district courts of appeal are rare. Pass-through certifications on the district court’s own motion are rarer still, and yet we appear to have just such a certification here, from the Second District.
The case involves an appeal from a DeSoto County circuit court’s denial of Ronald Morel’s emergency petition for habeas corpus relief. The state initiated a proceeding against Morel in Broward County in 2002 under Florida’s Jimmy Ryce Act. That act permits the state to confine those who present a threat of committing violent sexual offenses. Morel was moved to Arcadia, in DeSoto County, where the state detains all persons awaiting Jimmy Ryce trials.
Eight years have passed, and Morel has not received his trial or any treatment under the act. The state apparently takes the position that it has no duty to treat detainees awaiting trial and has no duty to speed the circuit court’s resolution of the pending petition. Making the situation even more difficult, and giving rise to the certification, is uncertainty over how a detainee such as Morel can obtain relief. Habeas corpus petitions are filed in the circuit court where a person is detained, and orders on such petitions are reviewed by the district court overseeing that local circuit court. Here, however, the commitment proceeding persists in Broward County, and it is unclear that the DeSoto County circuit court could order any relief that would result in his case being advanced in Broward. Making matters worse, Jimmy Ryce detainees from cases outside DeSoto County often have appointed counsel in the Jimmy Ryce proceeding but no representation in DeSoto. Morel is pro se.
The district court noted that Jimmy Ryce proceedings involve a 30-day speedy trial right, but that once that right is waived, the cases seem to take years. Here, eight years.
The district court appears concerned not only that Morel has apparently gone eight years without treatment or trial but that the jurisdictional authority of any court to provide any relief is unclear. Accordingly, the district court certified the case to the state supreme court for immediate resolution.
I would expect a few positive things to come from the Second District’s order. It may draw the media’s attention toward situations like Morel’s, where those accused of being likely future sexual offenders are incarcerated for incredible periods of time without being found to fit that bill. It may draw the legislature’s attention, and some statutory fixes to the present system are arguably in order. Finally, and of course, it should draw a response from the state supreme court, which can indirectly encourage the media’s and the legislature’s attention and can lend some jurisdictional certainty to how these matters should be handled.