536 U.S. 214 (2002), 01-301, Carey v. Saffold

Docket Nº:No. 01-301
Citation:536 U.S. 214, 122 S.Ct. 2134, 153 L.Ed.2d 260, 70 U.S.L.W. 4539, 70 U.S.L.W. 4558
Party Name:TOM L. CAREY, WARDEN, PETITIONER v. TONY EUGENE SAFFOLD
Case Date:June 17, 2002
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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536 U.S. 214 (2002)

122 S.Ct. 2134, 153 L.Ed.2d 260, 70 U.S.L.W. 4539, 70 U.S.L.W. 4558

TOM L. CAREY, WARDEN, PETITIONER

v.

TONY EUGENE SAFFOLD

No. 01-301

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 2002

Argued February 27, 2002

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 requires a state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief to file his petition within one year after his state conviction becomes final, 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A), but excludes from that period the time during which an application for state collateral review is “pending,” § 2244(d)(2). Respondent Saffold filed a state habeas petition in California seven days before the federal deadline. Five days after the state trial court denied his petition, he filed a further petition in the State Court of Appeal. Four and one-half months after that petition was denied, he filed a further petition in the State Supreme Court, which denied the petition on the merits and for lack of diligence. The Federal District Court dismissed his subsequent federal habeas petition as untimely, finding that the federal statute of limitations was not tolled during the intervals between the denial of one state petition and the filing of the next because no application was “pending” during that time. In reversing, the Ninth Circuit included the intervals in the “pending” period, and found that Saffold’s petition was timely because the State Supreme Court based its decision not only on lack of diligence but also on the merits.

Held:

1. As used in § 2244(d)(2), “pending” covers the time between a lower state court’s decision and the filing of a notice of appeal to a higher state court. Most States’ collateral review systems require a prisoner to file a petition in a trial court; then to file a notice of appeal within a specified time after entry of the trial court’s unfavorable judgment; and, if still unsuccessful, to file a further notice of appeal (or request for discretionary review) to the state supreme court within a specified time. Petitioner warden seeks a uniform national rule that a state petition is not “pending” during the interval between a lower court’s entry of judgment and the timely filing of a notice of appeal in the next court, reasoning that the petition is not being considered during that time. Such a reading is not consistent with the ordinary meaning of “pending,” which, in the present context, means until the completion of the collateral review process; i.e., until the application has achieved final resolution through the State’s postconviction proceedings. Petitioner’s reading

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would also produce a serious statutory anomaly. Because a federal habeas petitioner has not exhausted his state remedies as long as he has “the right under [state] law . . . to raise” in that State, “by any available procedure, the question presented,” § 2254(c), and because petitioner’s interpretation encourages state prisoners to file their petitions before the State completes a full round of collateral review, federal courts would have to contend with petitions that are in one sense unlawful (because the claims have not been exhausted) but in another sense required by law (because they would otherwise be barred by the 1-year imitations period). Pp. 219-221.

2. The same “pending” rule applies to California’s unique collateral review system, even though that system involves, not a notice of appeal, but the filing (within a “reasonable” time) of a further original state habeas petition in a higher court. California’s system is not as special in practice as its terminology might suggest. A prisoner typically will seek habeas review in a lower court and later seek appellate review in a higher court. Thus, the system functions very much like that in other States, but for its indeterminate timeliness rule. That rule may make it more difficult for federal courts to determine when a review application comes too late. But the tolling provision seeks to protect the State’s interests, and the State can explicate timing requirements more precisely should that prove necessary. In applying a federal statute that interacts with state procedural rules, this Court looks to how a state procedure functions, not its particular name. California’s system functions in ways sufficiently like other state collateral review systems to bring intervals between a lower court decision and a filing in a higher court within the scope of “pending.” Pp. 221–225.

3. The words “on the merits” by themselves do not indicate that Saffold’s petition was timely, but it is not possible to conclude that the Ninth Circuit was wrong in its ultimate conclusion. The State Supreme Court may have included such words in its opinion for a variety of reasons. And the Ninth Circuit’s willingness to take them as an absolute bellwether risks the tolling of the federal limitations period even when it is likely that the state petition was untimely, thus threatening the statutory purpose of encouraging prompt filings in order to protect the federal system from being forced to hear stale claims. In reconsidering the timeliness issue, the Ninth Circuit is left to evaluate any special conditions justifying Saffold’s delay in filing in the state court and any other relevant considerations, and to decide whether to certify a question to the State Supreme Court to seek clarification of the state law. Pp. 225–227.

250 F.3d 1262, vacated and remanded.

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BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, O’CONNOR, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined post, p. 227.

Stanley A. Cross, Supervising Deputy Attorney General of California, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief were Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Robert R. Anderson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, and Jo Graves and Arnold O. Overoye, Senior Assistant Attorneys General.

David W. Ogden argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Mary Katherine McComb, by appointment of the Court, 534 U.S. 1053, and Seth P. Waxman.[*]

JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) requires a state prisoner seeking a federal habeas corpus remedy to file his federal petition within one year after his state conviction has become “final.” 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). The statute adds, however, that the 1-year period does not include the time during which an

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application for state collateral review is “pending” in the state courts. § 2244(d)(2).

This case raises three questions related to the statutory word “pending”:

(1) Does that word cover the time between a lower state court’s decision and the filing of a notice of appeal to a higher state court?

(2) If so, does it apply similarly to California’s unique state collateral review system—a system that does not involve a notice of appeal, but rather the filing (within a reasonable time) of a further original state habeas petition in a higher court?

(3) If so, was the petition at issue here (filed in the California Supreme Court 41/2 months after the lower state court reached its decision) pending during that period, or was it no longer pending because it failed to comply with state timeliness rules?

We answer the first two questions affirmatively, while remanding the case to the Court of Appeals for its further consideration of the third.

I

In 1990 Tony Saffold, the respondent, was convicted and sentenced in California state court for murder, assault with a firearm, and robbery. His conviction became final on direct review in April 1992. Because Saffold’s conviction became final before AEDPA took effect, the federal limitations period began running on AEDPA’s effective date, April 24, 1996, giving Saffold one year from that date (in the absence of tolling) to file a federal habeas petition.

A week before the federal deadline, Saffold filed a state habeas petition in the state trial court. The state trial court denied the petition. Five days later Saffold filed a further petition in the State Court of Appeal. That court denied his petition. And 41/2 months later Saffold filed a further petition in the California Supreme Court. That court also denied Saffold’s petition, stating in a single sentence that it did

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so “on the merits and for lack of diligence.” App. G to Pet. for Cert. 1.

Approximately one week later, in early June 1998, Saffold filed a petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District Court. The District Court noted that AEDPA required Saffold to have filed his petition by April 24, 1997. It recognized that the statute gave Saffold extra time by tolling its limitations period while Saffold’s application for state collateral review was “pending” in the state courts. But the District Court decided that Saffold’s petition was “pending” only while the state courts were actively considering it, and that period did not include the intervals between the time a lower state court had denied Saffold’s petition and the time he had filed a further petition in a higher state court. In Saffold’s case those intervals amounted to five days (between the trial court and intermediate court) plus 41/2 months (between the intermediate court and Supreme Court), and those intervals made a critical difference. Without counting the intervals as part of the time Saffold’s application for state collateral review was “pending,” the tolling period was not long enough to make Saffold’s federal habeas petition timely. Hence the District Court dismissed the petition.

The Ninth Circuit reversed. It included in thepending period, and hence in the tolling period, the intervals between what was, in effect, consideration of a petition by...

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