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Government of the Virgin Islands v. Aswa Mills

February 9, 2011

GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
v.
ASWA MILLS, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the District Court of the United States Virgin Islands District Court No. 3-02-cr-00157-001 District Judge: The Honorable Curtis V. Gomez

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued December 16, 2010

Before: McKEE, Chief Judge, FUENTES and SMITH, Circuit Judges

OPINION

SMITH, Circuit Judge.

Under the rules governing appellate procedure, a notice of appeal must "designate the judgment" from which the appeal is being taken. This case presents the question whether a pro se notice of appeal satisfies the judgment-designation requirement when, although it correctly identifies the parties to the appeal, the nature of the case, and the court to which the appeal is being taken, it erroneously references the docket number and trial date of an earlier case involving the same parties. We hold that where, as here, the surroundingcircumstances make clear which judgment the appellant intends to appeal and the appellee is not prejudiced by the errors contained in the notice, the errors are not fatal to the appeal.

I. Background

On April 6, 2000, the appellant Aswa Mills was tried and convicted of assault and battery in the Territorial Court of the Virgin Islands. We will refer to this case as "the assault case." Mills was sentenced to 30 days in custody, which he served. He filed an appeal almost a year later, but quickly moved to withdraw it, perhaps concluding that the appeal was either too late or pointless. On July 2, 2001, the motion to withdraw was granted by the Appellate Division of the District Court for the Virgin Islands ("Appellate Division"), the court to which direct appeals from judgments entered by the Territorial Court were taken until the establishment of the Virgin Islands Supreme Court. See 48 U.S.C. § 1613a.

The assault case was not Mills' only run-in with the criminal justice system in 2000. In early 2000, Mills was charged in the Territorial Court with (among other offenses) first-degree murder. We will refer to this case as "the murder case." A jury convicted Mills on February 22, 2002, and, on March 19, 2002, Mills filed a pro se notice of appeal.*fn1 It is undisputed that the notice was an attempt to appeal the notyet-entered judgment in the murder case. The handwritten notice reads as follows:

United States District Court for the Appeals United States District for the Appeals District of U.S. Virgin Islands File number 525/1999 re: 525--1999 [the case number for the assault case]

Government of the Virgin Islands v. Aswa Mills

Notice is hereby given that the Government of the Virgin Islands v. Aswa Mills hereby appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from the final judgment from an order of conviction entered on April 6, 2000. Notice is hereby given the Government of the Virgin Islands v. Aswa A. Mills is in pursuant to 18 U.S.C.A. complete Annotation review 3504(a)2, 18 U.S.C.A. 3731, and 18, 3500. Notice is hereby stating order of U.S.C.A. 18, 2248 a return of [illegible].

In April 2002, the Territorial Court sentenced Mills to life without parole, and judgment was ...


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