562 U.S. 307 (2011), 09-996, Walker v. Martin

Docket Nº:09-996.
Citation:562 U.S. 307, 131 S.Ct. 1120, 179 L.Ed.2d 62, 79 U.S.L.W. 4093
Opinion Judge:GINSBURG, JUSTICE
Party Name:James WALKER, Warden, et al., Petitioners, v. Charles W. MARTIN.
Attorney:Todd Marshall, Sacramento, CA, for Petitioners. Michael R. Bigelow, Sacramento, CA, appointed by this Court, for Respondent. Edmund G. Brown Jr., Attorney General of California, Dane R. Gillette, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Donald E. DeNicola, Deputy State Solicitor General, Michael P. Farr...
Case Date:February 23, 2011
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 307

562 U.S. 307 (2011)

131 S.Ct. 1120, 179 L.Ed.2d 62, 79 U.S.L.W. 4093

James WALKER, Warden, et al., Petitioners,

v.

Charles W. MARTIN.

No. 09-996.

United States Supreme Court

February 23, 2011

Argued November 29, 2010

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

[131 S.Ct. 1122] [179 L.Ed.2d 65] SYLLABUS [*]

While most States set determinate time limits for collateral relief appli­cations, California courts "appl[y] a general 'reasonableness' stan­dard" to judge whether a habeas petition is timely filed, Carey v. Saffold, 536 U.S. 214, 222, 122 S.Ct. 2134, 153 L.Ed.2d 260. Under that standard, "a [habeas] petition should be filed as promptly as the circumstances allow . . ., " In re Clark, 5 Cal.4th 750, 765, n. 5, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 509, 855 P.2d 729, 738, n. 5. Three deci­sions, Clark, In re Robbins, 18 Cal.4th 770, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311, and In re Gallego, 18 Cal.4th 825, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 132, 959 P.2d 290, describe California's timeli­ness requirement. A prisoner must seek habeas relief without "sub­stantial delay, " e.g., Robbins, 18 Cal.4th at 780, 959 P.3d at 317, as "measured from the time the petitioner or counsel knew, or reasona­bly should have known, of the information offered in support of the claim and the legal basis for the claim, " id., at 787, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d at 322. All California courts have "original jurisdiction in habeas corpus pro­ceedings." Cal. Const., Art. VI, §10. Because a habeas petitioner may skip over the lower courts and file directly in the California Su­preme Court, that court rules on a staggering number of habeas peti­tions each year. A summary denial citing Clark and Robbins means that the petition is rejected as untimely. California courts, however, have discretion to bypass a timeliness issue and, instead, summarily reject the petition for want of merit.

Respondent Martin was convicted of murder and robbery, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. After the California Su­preme Court denied Martin's first state habeas petition, he filed a federal habeas petition. The District Court ordered a stay to permit Martin to return to state court to raise ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims he had not previously aired. Martin raised those claims in his second habeas petition in the California Supreme Court, but gave no reason for his failure to assert the additional claims until nearly five years after his sentence and conviction became final. The California Supreme Court denied the petition, citing Clark and Robbins. [179 L.Ed.2d 66] Having exhausted his state-court remedies, Martin filed an amended federal habeas petition. The District Court dismissed his belatedly asserted claims as untimely under California law. The Ninth Circuit vacated that order and directed the District Court to determine the "adequacy" of the State's time bar. Again rejecting Martin's petition, the District

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Court found California's bar an ade­quate state ground for denying Martin's new pleas. Concluding that the time bar was not firmly defined or consistently applied, the Ninth Circuit remanded for a determination of the merits of Martin's claims.

Held:

California's timeliness requirement qualifies as an independent state ground adequate to bar habeas corpus relief in federal court. Pp. 1127 - 1131, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 70-74.

(a) Absent showings of "cause" and "prejudice, " see Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 84–85, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 53 L.Ed.2d 594, federal habeas relief will be unavailable when (1) "a state court [has] declined [131 S.Ct. 1123] to address a prisoner's federal claims because the prisoner had failed to meet a state procedural re­quirement, " and (2) "the state judgment rests on independent and adequate state procedural grounds, " Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-730, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640. P. 1127, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 71.

(b) A "rule can be 'firmly established' and 'regularly followed, ' " and therefore adequate, "even if the appropriate exercise of discretion may permit consideration of a federal claim in some cases but not others." Beard v. Kindler, 558 U.S. 53, 60-61, 130 S.Ct. 612, 175 L.Ed.2d 417. California's time rule, although discretionary, meets this "firmly established" criterion. The California Supreme Court framed the requirement in a trilogy of cases, instructing habeas petitioners to "alleg[e] with specificity" the absence of substantial delay, good cause for delay, or eligibility for one of four exceptions to the time bar. Gallego, 18 Cal.4th at 838, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 132, 959 P.2d at 299. And California's case law made it plain that Mar­tin's nearly five-year delay was "substantial." See, e.g., id., at 829– 831, 838, and n. 13, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 132, 959 P.2d at 293–294, 299, and n. 13. The Court finds unpersuasive Martin's argument that the terms "reasonable time" period and "substantial delay" make California's rule too vague to be regarded as "firmly established." While indeterminate language is typical of discretionary rules, application of those rules in particu­lar circumstances can supply the requisite clarity. Congressional statutes and this Court's decisions have employed time limitations that are not stated in precise, numerical terms. For example, current federal habeas prescriptions limit the time for filing a petition to one year. The clock runs from "the date on which the [supporting] facts . . . could have been discovered through . . . due diligence." 28 U.S.C. §2255(f)(4). Although " 'due diligence' is an inexact measure of how much delay is too much, " Johnson v. United States, 544 U.S. 295, 309, n. 7, 125 S.Ct. 1571, 161 L.Ed.2d 542, "use of an imprecise standard is no justification for de­priving [a rule's] language of any meaning, " ibid. Nor is California's time rule vulnerable on the ground that it is not regularly followed. Each year, the California State Supreme Court summarily denies hundreds of habeas petitions by citing Clark and Robbins. Contrary to

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Martin's argument, California's time bar is not infirm simply be­cause a court may opt to bypass the [179 L.Ed.2d 67] Clark/Robbins assessment and summarily dismiss a petition on the merits, if that is the easier path. Nor should a discretionary rule be disregarded automatically upon a showing that outcomes under the rule vary from case to case. Discre­tion enables a court to home in on case-specific considerations and to avoid the harsh results that may attend consistent application of an unyielding rule. A state ground may be found inadequate when a court has exercised its discretion in a surprising or unfair manner, but Martin makes no such contention here. Pp. 1127-1130, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 70-74.

(c) This decision leaves unaltered the Court's repeated recognition that federal courts must carefully examine state procedural require­ments to ensure that they do not operate to discriminate against claims of federal rights. See, e.g., Brown v. Western R. Co. of Ala., 338 U.S. 294, 298-299, 70 S.Ct, 105, 94 L.Ed. 100. On the record here, however, there is no ba­sis for concluding that California's rule operates in such a discrimina­tory manner. P. 1130-1131, 179 L.Ed.2d, at 74.

357 Fed.Appx. 793, reversed.

Todd Marshall, Sacramento, CA, for Petitioners.

Michael R. Bigelow, Sacramento, CA, appointed by this Court, for Respondent.

Edmund G. Brown Jr., Attorney General of California, Dane R. Gillette, Chief

Assistant Attorney General, Donald E. DeNicola, Deputy State Solicitor General, Michael P. Farrell, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Eric L. Christoffersen, Deputy Attorney General, R. Todd Marshall, Deputy Attorney General, Sacramento, CA, for Petitioners.

Michael B. Bigelow, Michelle Lee Goldberg, Sacramento, CA, Gary T. Rag-ghianti, Ragghianti and Freitas LLP, San Rafael, CA, for Respondent.

OPINION

GINSBURG, JUSTICE

Page 310

[131 S.Ct. 1124] This case concerns California's time limitation on appli­cations for postconviction (habeas corpus) relief. The question presented: Does California's timeliness require­ment qualify as an independent state ground adequate to bar habeas corpus relief in federal court?

California does not employ fixed statutory deadlines to determine the timeliness of a state prisoner's petition for habeas corpus. Instead, California directs petitioners to file known claims "as promptly as the circumstances al­low." In re Clark, 5 Cal.4th 750, 765, n. 5, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 509, 855 P.2d 729, 738, n. 5 (1993). Petitioners are further instructed to state when they first learned of the asserted claims and to explain why they did not seek postconviction relief sooner. In re Robbins, 18 Cal.4th 770, 780, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 153, 959 P.2d 311, 317-318 (1998). Claims substantially delayed without justifi­cation may be denied as untimely. Ibid.; Clark, 5 Cal.4th at 765, n. 5, 21 Cal.Rptr.2d 509, 855 P.2d at 738, n. 5.

California courts signal that a habeas petition is denied as untimely by citing the controlling decisions, i.e., Clark and Robbins. A spare order denying a petition without explanation or citation ordinarily ranks as a disposition on the merits. Tr. of Oral Arg. 7; see Harrington v. Richter, ante, at 9–10, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S.Ct. 770, 178 L.Ed.2d 624.. California courts may elect to pretermit the question whether a petition is timely and simply deny the petition, thereby signaling that the petition lacks merit.

Petitioner below, respondent here, Charles W. Martin, presented the claims at issue-all alleging ineffective assistance of counsel-in a habeas petition filed in the California Supreme Court nearly five years after his con­viction became final. He stated no reason for the long delay. Citing Clark and Robbins, the court denied Mar­tin's...

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