Rhines v. Weber

Decision Date30 March 2005
Docket NumberNo. 03-9046.,03-9046.
Citation544 U.S. 269
PartiesRHINES v. WEBER, WARDEN.
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

After petitioner Rhines' state conviction for first-degree murder and burglary became final and his state habeas petition was denied, he filed a federal habeas petition. Because the 1-year statute of limitations imposed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) was tolled while his state petition was pending, see 28 U. S. C. § 2244(d)(2), he had more than 11 months before the limitations period expired. However, by the time the District Court ruled that eight of his claims had not been exhausted in state court, the limitations period had run. If the court had dismissed his "mixed" petition, Rhines would have been unable to refile after exhausting his claims, so the court decided to hold his federal petition in abeyance while he presented his unexhausted claims in state court, provided that he commenced the state proceedings within 60 days and returned to the District Court within 60 days of completing the exhaustion. The Eighth Circuit, which had previously held that a district court has no authority to hold mixed petitions in abeyance absent truly exceptional circumstances, vacated the stay and remanded the case for the District Court to determine whether Rhines could proceed by deleting unexhausted claims.

Held: A district court has discretion to stay a mixed petition to allow a petitioner to present his unexhausted claims to the state court in the first instance and then to return to federal court for review of his perfected petition. Pp. 273-279.

(a) Fourteen years before Congress enacted AEDPA, this Court held that federal district courts may not adjudicate mixed petitions but must give state courts the first opportunity to decide a petitioner's claims; imposed a "total exhaustion" requirement; and directed federal courts to effectuate that requirement by dismissing mixed petitions without prejudice and allowing petitioners to return to state court. Rose v. Lundy, 455 U. S. 509, 518-519. At the time, there was no statute of limitations on federal habeas petitions. But that changed with AEDPA, which preserved Lundy's total exhaustion requirement while imposing a 1-year limitations period, which is tolled during the pendency of a state, but not a federal, habeas petition. As a result, petitioners such as Rhines run the risk of forever losing their opportunity for federal review of their unexhausted claims. Even a petitioner who files early cannot control when a district court will resolve the exhaustion question. The gravity and difficulty of this problem has led some district courts to adopt the "stay-and-abeyance" procedure at issue. Pp. 273-276.

(b) AEDPA does not deprive district courts of the authority to issue stays that are a proper exercise of their discretion, but it does circumscribe that discretion. Any solution to this problem therefore must be compatible with AEDPA's purposes. Staying a federal habeas petition frustrates AEDPA's objective of encouraging finality of state court judgments by allowing a petitioner to delay the resolution of the federal proceedings, and it undermines AEDPA's goal of streamlining federal habeas proceedings by decreasing a petitioner's incentive to exhaust all his claims in state court before filing his federal petition. Thus, stay and abeyance should be available only in limited circumstances. Because granting a stay effectively excuses a petitioner's failure to present his claims first to the state courts, stay and abeyance is only appropriate when the district court determines there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims. Even if good cause existed, the district court would abuse its discretion if it granted a stay when the unexhausted claims are plainly meritless. Where stay and abeyance is appropriate, the district court's discretion is still limited by AEDPA's timeliness concerns. If a district court does not place reasonable time limits on a petitioner's trip to state court and back, petitioners, especially capital petitioners, could frustrate AEDPA's finality goal by dragging out indefinitely their federal habeas review. And if a petitioner engages in abusive litigation tactics or intentional delay, the district court should not grant a stay at all. On the other hand, it likely would be an abuse of discretion for a district court to deny a stay and dismiss a mixed petition if the petitioner had good cause for his failure to exhaust, his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and there is no indication that he engaged in intentionally dilatory litigation tactics. Such a petitioner's interest in obtaining federal review of his claims outweighs the competing interests in finality and speedy resolution of federal petitions. For the same reason, if the court determines that stay and abeyance is inappropriate, it should allow the petitioner to delete the unexhausted claims and proceed with the exhausted ones if dismissing the entire petition would unreasonably impair the petitioner's right to obtain federal relief. Pp. 276-279.

346 F. 3d 799, vacated and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and STEVENS, SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 279. SOUTER, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which GINSBURG and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 279.

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

Roberto A. Lange, by appointment of the Court, 543 U. S. 806, argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner.

Lawrence E. Long, Attorney General of South Dakota, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Craig M. Eichstadt, Deputy Attorney General.*

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

We confront here the problem of a "mixed" petition for habeas corpus relief in which a state prisoner presents a federal court with a single petition containing some claims that have been exhausted in the state courts and some that have not. More precisely, we consider whether a federal district court has discretion to stay the mixed petition to allow the petitioner to present his unexhausted claims to the state court in the first instance, and then to return to federal court for review of his perfected petition.

I

Petitioner Charles Russell Rhines was convicted in South Dakota state court of first-degree murder and third-degree burglary and sentenced to death. His conviction became final on December 2, 1996, when we denied his initial petition for certiorari. Rhines v. South Dakota, 519 U. S. 1013. On December 5, 1996, Rhines filed a petition for state habeas corpus. App. 32. The state court denied his petition, and the Supreme Court of South Dakota affirmed on February 9, 2000, Rhines v. Weber, 2000 SD 19, 608 N. W. 2d 303. Rhines filed his pro se petition for federal habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U. S. C. § 2254 in the United States District Court for the District of South Dakota on February 22, 2000. App. 3. Because the 1-year statute of limitations imposed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) was tolled while Rhines' state habeas corpus petition was pending, see 28 U. S. C. § 2244(d)(2), he still had more than 11 months left before the expiration of the limitations period.

With the assistance of court-appointed counsel, Rhines filed an amended petition for writ of habeas corpus and statement of exhaustion on November 20, 2000, asserting 35 claims of constitutional defects in his conviction and sentence. App. 39-60. The State challenged 12 of those claims as unexhausted. Id., at 72-79. On July 3, 2002, approximately 18 months after Rhines had filed his amended federal habeas corpus petition, the District Court held that 8 of the 35 claims had not been exhausted. At this time, the AEDPA 1-year statute of limitations had run. See Duncan v. Walker, 533 U. S. 167, 181-182 (2001) (holding that the statute of limitations is not tolled during the pendancy of a federal petition). As a result, if the District Court had dismissed Rhines' mixed petition at that point, he would have been unable to refile in federal court after exhausting the unexhausted claims. Rhines therefore moved the District Court to hold his pending habeas petition in abeyance while he presented his unexhausted claims to the South Dakota courts. On July 3, 2002, the District Court granted the motion and issued a stay "conditioned upon petitioner commencing state court exhaustion proceedings within sixty days of this order and returning to this court within sixty days of completing such exhaustion." App. 136. In compliance with that order, Rhines filed his second state habeas corpus petition on August 22, 2002.

The State appealed the District Court's stay of Rhines' mixed petition to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Relying on its decision in Akins v. Kenney, 341 F. 3d 681, 686 (2003) (holding that "a district court has no authority to hold a habeas petition containing unexhausted claims in abeyance absent truly exceptional circumstances" (internal quotation marks omitted)), the Court of Appeals vacated the stay and remanded the case to the District Court to determine whether Rhines could proceed by deleting unexhausted claims from his petition. 346 F. 3d 799 (2003). We granted certiorari to resolve a split in the Circuits regarding the propriety of the District Court's "stay-and-abeyance" procedure. 542 U. S. 936 (2004). Compare, e. g., Crews v. Horn, 360 F. 3d 146, 152 (CA3 2004); and Zarvela v. Artuz, 254 F. 3d 374, 381 (CA2 2001), with 346 F. 3d 799 (2003) (case below).

II

Fourteen years before Congress enacted AEDPA, we held in Rose v. Lundy, 455 U. S. 509 (1982), that federal district courts may not...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8155 cases
  • Ramos v. Racette
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of New York
    • 4 January 2012
    ...and then stay and abey his petition while he exhausts those claims. However, I conclude that the factors set forth in Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277-78 (2005), which circumscribe my discretion to employ this "stay and abeyance" procedure, are not satisfied here. First, Ramos has not dem......
  • Secrease v. Walker, 2: 09 - cv - 299 JAM TJB
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • 12 July 2011
    ...... exhaustion Page 9 petition within 30 days from the date of that order, and failed to comply with the thirty day time limit required under Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 277 (2005). In the alternative, [R]espondent argues that the novel claims 2, 3, 6, 8, 16 and one unnumbered claim involving ......
  • Hill v. Sheets
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio
    • 4 November 2008
    ...claim, which must be considered in determining whether to grant a stay in habeas corpus proceedings. See Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 125 S.Ct. 1528, 161 L.Ed.2d 440 (2005). Further, and in any event, as discussed, petitioner's request for a stay is moot since post conviction proceedings ......
  • In re Reno
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 30 August 2012
    ...that is not shared by other prisoners." (In re Clark, supra, 5 Cal.4th at p. 806 (conc. & dis. opn. of Kennard, J.); see Rhines v. Weber (2005) 544 U.S. 269, 277-278 [suggesting capital defendants "might deliberately engage in dilatory tactics to prolong their incarceration and avoid execut......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 books & journal articles
  • Expanding cause: how federal courts should address severe psychiatric impairments that impact state post-conviction review
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review No. 60-1, January 2023
    • 1 January 2023
    ...omitted)). 72. See Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 510, 522 (1982); HERTZ & LIEBMAN, supra note 1, §§ 23.1, 23.5. 73. See Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 274–78 (2005); HERTZ & LIEBMAN, supra note 1, §§ 23.1, 23.5. 74. See, e.g. , 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1); id . § 2244(b)(2); ARK. R. CRIM. P. 37.2......
  • Review Proceedings
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-Annual Review, August 2022
    • 1 August 2022
    ...(3d Cir. 1997) (exhaustion requirement not excused because petitioner did not show execution was “imminent”). 2872. See Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 275 (2005); see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2). However, when a petitioner adds an unexhausted claim after the federal district court reaches i......
  • Racial Justice and Federal Habeas Corpus as Postconviction Relief from State Convictions
    • United States
    • Mercer University School of Law Mercer Law Reviews No. 69-2, January 2018
    • Invalid date
    ..."the failure of the petitioner to assert those [new] grounds in a prior petition constituted an abuse of the writ." Id. at 520-21.343. 544 U.S. 269 (2005).344. Id. at 277.345. 455 U.S. at 520.346. Id. It is hard to see how this or any other interpretation of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) and (c) or i......
  • Mooting Unilateral Mootness.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 121 No. 4, February 2023
    • 1 February 2023
    ...e.g., Ford v. NYLCare Health Plans of the Gulf Coast, Inc., 301 F.3d 329, 331-32 (5th Cir. 2002). (301.) See generally Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269 (302.) See discussion of vacatur supra Section III.B.
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT