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Statute of Limitations For Habeas Corpus and The Certificate of Appealability


Gonzalez v. Thaler 132 S.Ct. 641

Decided by U. S. Supreme Court January 10, 2012

Click here to see  Text of Habeas Statutes for State and Federal Prisoners

Click here to see Tolling Habeas Corpus Statute of Limitations

Issues:(1) Whether a Judge’s statement of a constitutional issue on the Certificate of Appealability (COA) is a jurisdictional requirement; (2) When does a State judgment become final for purposes of the statute of limitations under AEDPA.

Holding: This case interprets two provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The first, 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c), provides that a habeas petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal a federal district court’s final order in a habeas proceeding. § 2253(c)(1). The COA may issue only if the petitioner has made a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right,” § 2253(c)(2), and “shall indicate which specific issue” satisfies that showing. § 2253(c)(3). We hold that § 2253(c)(3) is not a jurisdictional requirement. Accordingly, a judge’s failure to “indicate” the requisite constitutional issue in a COA does not deprive a court of appeals of subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the habeas petitioner’s appeal.

The second provision, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), establishes a 1–year limitations period for state prisoners to file federal habeas petitions, running from “the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review.” We hold that, for a state prisoner who does not seek review in a State’s highest court, the judgment becomes “final” on the date that the time for seeking such review expires.

Facts: After the intermediate state appellate court affirmed his state-court conviction, petitionerGonzalez allowed his time for seeking discretionary review with the State’s highest court for criminal appeals to expire. Roughly six weeks later, the intermediate state appellate court issued its mandate. When Gonzalez subsequently sought federal habeas relief, the District Court dismissed Gonzalez’s petition as time barred by the 1–year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA).

Under AEDPA, a habeas petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal a district court’s final order in a habeas proceeding. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1). The COA may issue only if the petitioner has made a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right,” § 2253(c)(2), and “shall indicate which specific issue” satisfies that showing, § 2253(c)(3). A Fifth Circuit judge granted Gonzalez a COA on the question whether his petition was timely. The issued COA, however, failed to “indicate” a constitutional issue.

The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Gonzalez’s petition was untimely because the limitations period begins to run for petitioners who fail to appeal to a State’s highest court when the time for seeking further direct review in the state court expires. The Fifth Circuit did not mention, and the State did not raise, the § 2253(c)(3) defect. When Gonzalezpetitioned this Court for review, the State argued for the first time that the Fifth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Gonzalez’s appeal based on the § 2253(c)(3) defect.

Legal Analysis: Section 2253, as amended by AEDPA, governs appeals in habeas corpus proceedings. The first subsection, § 2253(a), is a general grant of jurisdiction, providing that district courts’ final orders in habeas proceedings “shall be subject to review, on appeal, by the court of appeals.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(a). The second, § 2253(b), limits jurisdiction over a particular type of final order. See § 2253(b) (“There shall be no right of appeal from a final order in a proceeding to test the validity of a warrant [of] remov[al] …”). This case concerns the third, § 2253(c), which provides:

(1) Unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability, an appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals

(2) A certificate of appealability may issue under paragraph (1) only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.

(3) The certificate of appealability under paragraph (1) shall indicate which specific issue or issues satisfy the showing required by paragraph (2).

In this case, the Court of Appeals judge granted a COA that identified a debatable procedural ruling, but did not “indicate” the issue on which Gonzalez had made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right, as required by § 2253(c)(3). The question before us is whether that defect deprived the Court of Appeals of the power to adjudicate Gonzalez’sappeal. We hold that it did not.

A rule is jurisdictional “[i]f the Legislature clearly states that a threshold limitation on a statute’s scope shall count as jurisdictional.  But if “Congress does not rank a statutory limitation on coverage as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional.  That*649 clear-statement principle makes particular sense in this statute, as we consider—against the backdrop of § 2253(a)’s clear jurisdictional grant to the courts of appeals and § 2253(b)’s clear limit on that grant—the extent to which Congress intended the COA process outlined in § 2253(c) to further limit the courts of appeals’ jurisdiction over habeas appeals.

 the only “clear” jurisdictional language in § 2253(c) appears in § 2253(c)(1). 2253(c)(1)’s plain terms—“Unless a circuit justice or judge issues a certificate of appealability, an appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals”—establish that “until a COA has been issued federal courts of appeals lack jurisdiction to rule on the merits of appeals from habeas petitioners.  §2253(c)(1) is therefore jurisdictional.

§ 2253(c)(2) is nonjurisdictional.4 That is for good reason.Section 2253(c)(2) speaks only to when a COA may issue—upon “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” It does not contain § 2253(c)(1)’s jurisdictional terms.

W]here Congress includes particular language in one section of a statute but omits it in another section of the same Act, it is generally presumed that Congress acts intentionally …”). And it would be passing strange if, after a COA has issued, each court of appeals adjudicating an appeal were dutybound to revisit the threshold showing and gauge its “substantial[ity]” to verify its jurisdiction. That inquiry would be largely duplicative of the merits question before the court.

It follows that § 2253(c)(3) is nonjurisdictional as well. Like § 2253(c)(2), it too reflects a threshold condition for the issuance of a COA—the COA’s indication of “which specific issue or issues satisfy the showing required by paragraph (2).” It too “does not speak in jurisdictional terms or refer in any way to the jurisdiction of the [appeals] courts.

The unambiguous jurisdictional terms of §§ 2253(a), (b), and (c)(1) show that Congress would have spoken in clearer terms if it intended § 2253(c)(3) to have similar jurisdictional force. Instead, the contrast underscores that the failure to obtain a COA is jurisdictional, while a COA’s failure to indicate an issue is not. A defective COA is not equivalent to the lack of any COA.

Congress placed the power to issue COAs in the hands of a “circuit justice or judge.  It would seem somewhat counterintuitive to render a panel of court of appeals judges powerless to act on appeals based on COAs that Congress specifically empowered one court of appeals judge to grant.

THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR HABEAS CORPUS PETITIONS UNDER AEDPA

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1) provides:

A 1–year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court. The limitation period shall run from the latest of—

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;

(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;

(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or

(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.”

This case concerns the first of those dates: “the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review.” § 2244(d)(1)(A). The question before us is when the judgment becomes “final” if a petitioner does not appeal to a State’s highest court.

In Clay v. United States, 537 U.S. 522, 123 S.Ct. 1072, 155 L.Ed.2d 88 (2003), we addressed AEDPA’s statute of limitations for federal prisoners seeking postconviction relief. See § 2255(f)(1)(2006 ed., Supp. III) (beginning 1–year period of limitations from “the date on which the judgment of conviction becomes final”). We held that the federal judgment becomes final “when this Court affirms a conviction on the merits on direct review or denies a petition for a writ of certiorari,” or, if a petitioner does not seek certiorari, “when the time for filing a certiorari petition expires.” Id., at 527, 123 S.Ct. 1072. In so holding, we rejected the argument that, if a petitioner declines to seek certiorari, the limitations period “starts to run on the date the court of appeals issues its mandate.” Id., at 529, 123 S.Ct. 1072.

THE RULE: WHEN DOES DIRECT REVIEW OF A STATE CASE EXPIRE 

The text of § 2244(d)(1)(A), which marks finality as of “the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review,” consists of two prongs. Each prong—the “conclusion of direct review” and the “expiration of the time for seeking such review”—relates to a distinct category of petitioners. For petitioners who pursue direct review all the way to this Court, the judgment becomes final at the “conclusion of direct review”—when this Court affirms a conviction on the merits or denies a petition for certiorari.

For all other petitioners, the judgment becomes final at the “expiration of the time for seeking such review”—when the time for pursuing *654 direct review in this Court, or in state court, expires. We thus agree with the Court of Appeals that because Gonzalez did not appeal to the State’s highest court, his judgment became final when his time for seeking review with the State’s highest court expired.