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Bobadilla's molestation conviction vacated

WILLMAR -- A United States District Court judge has granted Orlando Manuel Bobadilla's petition for writ of habeas corpus and has vacated his 2003 conviction for sexually molesting a 3-year-old child.

In an opinion dated July 16, District Judge Patrick J. Schlitz concluded that the "Minnesota Supreme Court did, in fact, unreasonably apply clearly established law in concluding that Bobadilla's right to confrontation was not violated by the introduction of (the child's) out-of-court statement. For that reason, this Court grants Bobadilla's petition for writ of habeas corpus."

Bobadilla, 28, of Willmar, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in October 2003, after a jury convicted him of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct for sticking his finger between a 3-year-old's buttocks. His conviction was overturned by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in 2004, but was later upheld by the state Supreme Court in a February 2006 decision.

Also in 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Bobadilla's request to argue that he was denied his right to directly cross-examine the child during his jury trial.

According to the opinion from Judge Schlitz, the petition for habeas corpus was filed after the Supreme Court denial. The petition, against Minnesota Department of Corrections Warden Terry Carlson, challenges the authority of the state prison system to detain Bobadilla, based on his argument that his conviction was obtained in violation of the confrontation clause.

In his order granting the writ of habeas corpus and vacating the conviction, the judge ordered that Bobadilla "shall be released unless the State of Minnesota takes affirmative steps to reinstate a criminal prosecution of the petitioner" within 60 days.

Kandiyohi County Boyd Beccue called the recent development an "unfortunate decision."

"The good news is that the Minnesota Attorney General is handling the appeal," Beccue said. The appeal, to vacate the writ, will be made to the federal Eighth Circuit Court, and is already in process.

The arguments and decisions in the local case are part of the court system's wrangling with the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Crawford v. Washington, which addresses a defendant's right to directly cross-examine witnesses. Part of the evidence introduced by the prosecution during the Bobadilla trial was a videotaped interview of the child by a county social worker, plus testimony from his mother and the social worker about the child's statements about the sexual assault.

While all of the legal wrangling will not be specific to the Bobadilla case, Beccue expects protracted legal action on multiple fronts regarding the Crawford decision. "The impact of Crawford will be greater than that of Miranda," Beccue said. The Miranda warning, the rights given to someone when they are arrested, was born of a 1964 court decision.