Castro v. United States, No. 02-6683.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBreyer
Citation540 U.S. 375
Docket NumberNo. 02-6683.
Decision Date15 December 2003
PartiesCASTRO v. UNITED STATES
540 U.S. 375
CASTRO
v.
UNITED STATES
No. 02-6683.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued October 15, 2003.
Decided December 15, 2003.

In 1994, petitioner Castro attacked his federal drug conviction in a pro se motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. The Government responded that the claims were more cognizable as federal habeas claims under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The District Court denied Castro's motion on the merits, referring to it as both a Rule 33 and a § 2255 motion. Castro did not challenge this recharacterization of his motion on his pro se appeal, and the Eleventh Circuit summarily affirmed. In 1997, Castro, again pro se, filed a § 2255 motion raising, inter alia, a new claim for ineffective assistance of counsel. The District Court denied the motion, but the Eleventh Circuit remanded for the District Court to consider, among other things, whether this was Castro's second § 2255 motion. The District Court appointed counsel, determined that the 1997 motion was indeed Castro's second § 2255 motion (the 1994 motion being his first), and dismissed the motion for failure to comply with § 2255's requirement that Castro obtain the Court of Appeals' permission to file a "second or successive" motion. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

Held:

1. This Court's review of Castro's claim is not barred by the requirement that the "grant or denial of an authorization by a court of appeals to file a second or successive application . . . shall not be the subject of a [certiorari] petition," 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3)(E). Castro nowhere asked the Eleventh Circuit to grant, and it nowhere denied, such authorization. Contrary to the Government's position, the court's statement that Castro's petition could not meet the requirements for second or successive petitions cannot be taken as a statutorily relevant "denial" of an authorization request not made. Even accepting the Government's characterization, the argument would founder because the certiorari petition's "subject" is not the Eleventh Circuit's authorization "denial," but the lower courts' refusal to recognize that this § 2255 motion is Castro's first. Moreover, reading the statute as the Government suggests would create procedural anomalies, allowing review where the lower court decision disfavors, but denying review where it favors, the Government; would close this Court's doors to a class of habeas petitioners without any clear indication that such was Congress' intent; and

[540 U.S. 376]

would be difficult to reconcile with the principle that this Court reads limitations on its jurisdiction narrowly. Pp. 379-381.

2. A federal court cannot recharacterize a pro se litigant's motion as a first § 2255 motion unless it first informs the litigant of its intent to recharacterize, warns the litigant that this recharacterization means that any subsequent § 2255 motion will be subject to the restrictions on "second or successive" motions, and provides the litigant an opportunity to withdraw the motion or to amend it so that it contains all the § 2255 claims he believes he has. If these warnings are not given, the motion cannot be considered to have become a § 2255 motion for purposes of applying to later motions the law's "second or successive" restrictions. Nine Circuits have placed such limits on recharacterization, and no one here contests the lawfulness of this judicially created requirement. Pp. 381-383.

3. Because the District Court failed to give the prescribed warnings, Castro's 1994 motion cannot be considered a first § 2255 motion and his 1997 motion cannot be considered a second or successive one. The Government argues that Castro's failure to appeal the 1994 recharacterization makes the recharacterization valid as a matter of "law of the case." And, according to the Government, since the 1994 recharacterization is valid, the 1997 § 2255 motion is Castro's second, not his first. This Court disagrees. The point of a warning is to help the pro se litigant understand not only (1) whether he should withdraw or amend his motion, but also (2) whether he should contest the recharacterization, say, on appeal. The lack of warning prevents his making an informed judgment as to both. The failure to appeal simply underscores the practical importance of providing the warning. Hence, an unwarned recharacterization cannot count as a § 2255 motion for purposes of the "second or successive" provision whether or not the unwarned pro se litigant takes an appeal. Even assuming that the law of the case doctrine applies here, the doctrine simply expresses common judicial practice; it does not limit the courts' power. Pp. 383-384.

290 F. 3d 1270, vacated and remanded.

BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, SOUTER, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined as to Parts I and II. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS, J., joined, post, p. 385.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT.

Michael G. Frick, by appointment of the Court, ante, p. 807, argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

[540 U.S. 377]

Dan Himmelfarb argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Olson, Assistant Attorney General Chertoff, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Nina Goodman.*

JUSTICE BREYER delivered the opinion of the Court.


Under a longstanding practice, a court sometimes treats as a request for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 a motion that a pro se federal prisoner has labeled differently. Such recharacterization can have serious consequences for the prisoner, for it subjects any subsequent motion under § 2255 to the restrictive conditions that federal law imposes upon a "second or successive" (but not upon a first) federal habeas motion. § 2255, ¶ 8. In light of these consequences, we hold that the court cannot so recharacterize a pro se litigant's motion as the litigant's first § 2255 motion unless the court informs the litigant of its intent to recharacterize, warns the litigant that the recharacterization will subject subsequent § 2255 motions to the law's "second or successive" restrictions, and provides the litigant with an opportunity to withdraw, or to amend, the filing. Where these things are not done, a recharacterized motion will not count as a § 2255 motion for purposes of applying § 2255's "second or successive" provision.

I

This case focuses upon two motions that Hernan O'Ryan Castro, a federal prisoner acting pro se, filed in federal court. He filed the first motion in 1994, the second in 1997.

A

The relevant facts surrounding the 1994 motion are the following:

540 U.S. 378

(1) On July 5, 1994, Castro filed a pro se motion attacking his federal drug conviction, a motion that he called a Rule 33 motion for a new trial. See Fed. Rule Crim. Proc. 33.

(2) The Government, in its response, said that Castro's claims were "more properly cognizable" as federal habeas corpus claims, i.e., claims made under the authority of 28 U.S.C. § 2255. But, the Government added, it did not object to the court's considering Castro's motion as having invoked both Rule 33 and § 2255.

(3) The District Court denied Castro's motion on the merits. In its accompanying opinion, the court generally referred to Castro's motion as a Rule 33 motion; but the court twice referred to it as a § 2255 motion as well. App. 137-144.

(4) Castro, still acting pro se, appealed, but he did not challenge the District Court's recharacterization of his motion.

(5) The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed. It said in its one-paragraph order that it was ruling on a motion based upon both Rule 33 and § 2255. Judgt. order reported at 82 F. 3d 429 (CA11 1996); App. 147.

B

The relevant facts surrounding the 1997 motion are the following:

(1) On April 18, 1997, Castro, acting pro se, filed what he called a § 2255 motion. The motion included claims not raised in the 1994 motion, including a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

(2) The District Court denied the motion; Castro appealed; and the Court of Appeals remanded for further consideration of the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. It also asked the District Court to consider whether, in light of the 1994 motion, Castro's motion was his second § 2255 motion, rather than his first.

(3) On remand, the District Court appointed counsel for Castro. It then decided that the 1997 motion was indeed

540 U.S. 379

Castro's second § 2255 motion (the 1994 motion being his first). And it dismissed the motion for failure to comply with one of § 2255's restrictive "second or successive" conditions (namely, Castro's failure to obtain the Court of Appeals' permission to file a "second or successive" motion). § 2255, ¶ 8. The District Court granted Castro a certificate to appeal its "second or successive" determination. § 2253(c)(1).

(4) The Eleventh Circuit affirmed by a split (2-to-1) vote. 290 F. 3d 1270 (2002). The majority "suggested" and "urged" district courts in the future to "warn prisoners of the consequences of recharacterization and provide them with the opportunity to amend or dismiss their filings." Id., at 1273, 1274. But it held that the 1994 court's failure to do so did not legally undermine its recharacterization. Hence, Castro's current § 2255 motion was indeed his second habeas motion. Id., at 1274.

Other Circuits have taken a different approach. E. g., United States v. Palmer, 296 F. 3d 1135, 1145-1147 (CADC 2002) (announcing a rule requiring courts to notify pro se litigants prior to recharacterization and refusing to find the § 2255 motion before it "second or successive" since such notice was lacking). We consequently granted Castro's petition for certiorari.

II

We begin with a jurisdictional matter. We asked the parties to consider the relevance of a provision in the federal...

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2335 practice notes
  • Scott v. United States, Nos. 15-11377
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • May 23, 2018
    ...120 S.Ct. 1595, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000). And since it limits the courts’ jurisdiction, we read it narrowly. See Castro v. United States , 540 U.S. 375, 381, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 (2003) (citing Utah v. Evans , 536 U.S. 452, 463, 122 S.Ct. 2191, 153 L.Ed.2d 453 (2002) ). As the Supre......
  • Harris v. Gordy, Civil Action Number: 5:15-cv-01112-VEH-JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • November 1, 2017
    ...petition in December 2013. (Doc. 3, ¶¶ 12, 13). In response, the magistrate judge entered an order pursuant to Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375 (2003), advising Harris that, although he appeared to rely exclusively upon § 2241 as authorizing his habeas petition, the court intended Page......
  • Douglas v. Workman, No. 01-6094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • March 26, 2009
    ...without any clear indication that such was Congress' intent."18 Id. (quotation omitted); see 560 F.3d 1189 also Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 380-81, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 In this unusual case, we conclude Mr. Douglas's Brady claim should be treated, not as a second or suc......
  • Chedwick v. Upmc, No. 2:07-cv-806.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • December 12, 2007
    ...where applicable, does not limit this Court's authority. Instead, it merely expresses common judicial practice. Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 384, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 (2003). Moreover, the Court is convinced that the doctrine is not applicable, since today's decision con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2378 cases
  • Scott v. United States, Nos. 15-11377
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • May 23, 2018
    ...120 S.Ct. 1595, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000). And since it limits the courts’ jurisdiction, we read it narrowly. See Castro v. United States , 540 U.S. 375, 381, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 (2003) (citing Utah v. Evans , 536 U.S. 452, 463, 122 S.Ct. 2191, 153 L.Ed.2d 453 (2002) ). As the Supre......
  • Harris v. Gordy, Civil Action Number: 5:15-cv-01112-VEH-JEO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • November 1, 2017
    ...petition in December 2013. (Doc. 3, ¶¶ 12, 13). In response, the magistrate judge entered an order pursuant to Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375 (2003), advising Harris that, although he appeared to rely exclusively upon § 2241 as authorizing his habeas petition, the court intended Page......
  • Douglas v. Workman, No. 01-6094.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • March 26, 2009
    ...without any clear indication that such was Congress' intent."18 Id. (quotation omitted); see 560 F.3d 1189 also Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 380-81, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 In this unusual case, we conclude Mr. Douglas's Brady claim should be treated, not as a second or suc......
  • Chedwick v. Upmc, No. 2:07-cv-806.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • December 12, 2007
    ...where applicable, does not limit this Court's authority. Instead, it merely expresses common judicial practice. Castro v. United States, 540 U.S. 375, 384, 124 S.Ct. 786, 157 L.Ed.2d 778 (2003). Moreover, the Court is convinced that the doctrine is not applicable, since today's decision con......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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