Stubbs v. Hall

Decision Date13 March 2020
Docket NumberS19A1253
Citation840 S.E.2d 407,308 Ga. 354
CourtGeorgia Supreme Court
Parties STUBBS v. HALL.

Brian Kammer, Randall M. Edwards, MERCER LAW SCHOOL, 1021 Georgia Avenue, Macon, Georgia 31207, for Appellant.

Patricia B. Attaway Burton, Deputy Attorney General, Paula Khristian Smith, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Michael Alexander Oldham, Assistant Attorney General, Christopher M. Carr, Attorney General, Matthew Blackwell Crowder, Assistant Attorney General, DEPARTMENT OF LAW, 40 Capitol Square, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30334, George Herbert Hartwig, III, District Attorney, HOUSTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, 201 North Perry Parkway, Perry, Georgia 31069, for Appellee.

Warren, Justice.

In 2005, Henry Stubbs was convicted of armed robbery and hijacking a motor vehicle, among many other crimes, and was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 31 years. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in 2008. See Stubbs v. State , 293 Ga. App. 692, 667 S.E.2d 905 (2008). In 2012, Stubbs filed a writ of habeas corpus through an attorney, which the habeas court dismissed as untimely. He then filed an application for a certificate of probable cause in this Court to appeal that dismissal. We granted Stubbs's application and posed the following question:

Did the habeas court err in dismissing Stubbs's habeas petition as untimely when Stubbs presented evidence, via his verified habeas petition, that he had not been advised of the time limitations governing habeas corpus actions? See OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) & (d).

Although we conclude that the habeas court's ruling about the exact date that Stubbs's convictions became final is erroneous, we nonetheless affirm the habeas court's dismissal of Stubbs's petition because it was untimely under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) —a fact that neither party disputes. We also conclude that Stubbs's untimely petition is not subject to statutory or equitable tolling. We therefore answer the question presented "no" and affirm the habeas court's dismissal of Stubbs's petition.

1. Background and Procedural History.
(a) Conviction and Direct Appeal.

On November 3, 2005, Stubbs was sentenced to life in prison plus 31 years after being found guilty of multiple offenses, including armed robbery and hijacking a motor vehicle. On direct appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed Stubbs's convictions on September 24, 2008. See Stubbs , 293 Ga. App. at 692, 667 S.E.2d 905.

(b) Habeas Petition.

Approximately four years and three months later, on December 19, 2012, Stubbs filed a verified petition for writ of habeas corpus, raising multiple claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. Notwithstanding that his petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed on his behalf by an attorney, Stubbs alleged that "he was never advised of [his] right to file [a] Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus and [never advised of the] time limit for filing [the] Petition" by the trial court, trial counsel, or appellate counsel. In his response to the Warden's motion to dismiss, Stubbs again noted "that neither the sentencing court nor any of his attorneys informed him of the deadline for filing his Petition." At some point, Stubbs's attorney passed away, and Stubbs began to represent himself. After the case was transferred several times, the Warden filed another motion to dismiss, arguing that Stubbs's habeas petition was untimely under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1). The Hancock County Superior Court held a hearing on May 16, 2018, and Stubbs appeared at the hearing without counsel and without any witnesses. The habeas court ultimately concluded that Stubbs's petition was untimely under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) and dismissed it in an order entered on May 29, 2018.

(c) The Habeas Court's Analysis of the Petition's Untimeliness.

In its order dismissing Stubbs's habeas petition, the habeas court concluded that the petition was untimely, citing OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) and "Georgia law" "[p]rior to the enactment of OCGA § 9-14-42 (c)" which "recognized that a conviction is ‘final’ when direct review, including the time to file a petition for a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, has concluded or where the time for seeking further appellate review has expired."1 After noting that the Court of Appeals affirmed Stubbs's convictions on September 24, 2008, the habeas court reasoned that Stubbs "then had 10 days to either move for reconsideration or file a notice of intent to apply for certiorari review." Because Stubbs "did neither," the trial court ruled that "Petitioner's convictions were ‘final’ as of October 6, 2008—the date on which his time for seeking appellate review expired"—and that Stubbs had "four years from that date, or October 6, 2012, to file a timely habeas petition challenging these convictions."2 The habeas court then dismissed Stubbs's petition as untimely because "he filed [his] action on December 19, 2012, more than two months late."

(d) Certificate of Probable Cause.

Still representing himself, Stubbs timely filed a notice of appeal and an application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal to this Court on June 27, 2018, claiming that the habeas court erred in dismissing his petition as untimely because neither his trial counsel, nor his appellate counsel, nor the trial court had informed him of the limitations period for filing a habeas corpus petition. He therefore argued that his habeas petition was subject to equitable tolling. We granted Stubbs's application and asked the question quoted above, and the case was orally argued on September 12, 2019.3

2. Statutory Deadline for Filing a Petition for Habeas Corpus under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1).

OCGA § 9-14-42 (c), which was added to Georgia's habeas corpus statutes in 2004, see Ga. L. 2004, p. 917, § 1, prescribes the statute of limitations for habeas corpus actions and enumerates four potential dates from which a habeas action may be brought timely:

(c) Any action brought pursuant to this article shall be filed within one year in the case of a misdemeanor, except as otherwise provided in Code Section 40-13-33, or within four years in the case of a felony, other than one challenging a conviction for which a death sentence has been imposed or challenging a sentence of death, from:
(1) The judgment of conviction becoming final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review; provided, however, that any person whose conviction has become final as of July 1, 2004, regardless of the date of conviction, shall have until July 1, 2005, in the case of a misdemeanor or until July 1, 2008, in the case of a felony to bring an action pursuant to this Code section;
(2) The date on which an impediment to filing a petition which was created by state action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of this state is removed, if the petitioner was prevented from filing such state action;
(3) The date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court of the United States or the Supreme Court of Georgia, if that right was newly recognized by said courts and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(4) The date on which the facts supporting the claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

Under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1), the limitations period begins running when a conviction becomes "final." Specifically, subsection (c) (1) provides that, for a felony, a habeas action must be brought within four years from the judgment of conviction becoming final "by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review."4 Thus, because Stubbs was convicted of felonies in which the death sentence was not imposed, he had four years from the date of his judgment of conviction becoming "final" to file a timely habeas petition under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1).5

3. Finality under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1).

The question of exactly when a judgment of conviction becomes final under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) is not well settled.6 And because—as explained below—the habeas court erred in determining when Stubbs's convictions became final and thus when the statute of limitations period under OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) expired for his habeas petition, we must first discuss how habeas courts should calculate finality for purposes OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) to evaluate whether the habeas court's error was harmful here.

(a) Determining when a judgment of conviction becomes final for habeas actions under federal law.

OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) closely mirrors 28 USC § 2244 (d) (1), which was enacted in 1996, and establishes the statute of limitations for persons in custody "pursuant to the judgment of a State court" to file a federal petition for habeas corpus. Compare OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) (1) (providing that the period of limitations for filing a petition for habeas corpus runs from "[t]he judgment of conviction becoming final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review") with 28 USC § 2244 (d) (1) (A) (providing that the period of limitations for filing a petition for habeas corpus runs 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"). See also Abrams v. Laughlin , 304 Ga. 34, 37, 816 S.E.2d 26 (2018) (recognizing that, except for providing a time period of four years (for a felony) instead of one year, OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) "conforms very closely" to the "statute of limitation applicable to a federal habeas application by a person in custody pursuant to a state court judgment, 28 USC § 2244 (d) (1)," and that "[t]he limitation period under [ 28 USC § 2244 (d) (1) ] runs from the latest of four dates that are virtually the same as the four specified in OCGA § 9-14-42 (c)").

"[I]n construing a Georgia statute that closely tracks federal statutory law, we may look to federal court decisions and commentary...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 cases
  • Cook v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • March 15, 2022
    ...within one year, OCGA § 9-14-42 (c) —statutory limitations periods that are not subject to equitable tolling, see Stubbs v. Hall , 308 Ga. 354, 369, 840 S.E.2d 407 (2020). It provides for a statutory defense of laches, OCGA § 9-14-48 (e), and contains a bar on successive habeas petitions, O......
  • Cook v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • March 15, 2022
    ...322) (1998); Harris v. State, 273 Ga. 608, 610 (543 S.E.2d 716) (2001); Green v. State, 279 Ga. 455, 456 (614 S.E.2d 751) (2005); Stubbs, 308 Ga. at 362 n.11.[26] Neither Cook nor GACDL argues that we should overrule Taylor and its progeny, let alone engages in a stare decisis analysis of t......
  • Gray v. State
    • United States
    • Georgia Supreme Court
    • October 19, 2020
    ...within the one-year time limit. "[W]e first look to the text because a statute draws its meaning from its text." Stubbs v. Hall , 308 Ga. 354, 363 (4), 840 S.E.2d 407 (2020) (citation and punctuation omitted). "The primary determinant of a text's meaning is its context." City of Guyton v. B......
  • Hicks v. Universal Health Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • Georgia Court of Appeals
    • June 17, 2022
    ...omitted.) Tibbles v. Teachers Retirement System of Ga. , 297 Ga. 557, 558 (1), 775 S.E.2d 527 (2015). See also Stubbs v. Hall , 308 Ga. 354, 365 (4), 840 S.E.2d 407 (2020).14 In the Interest of K. S. , 303 Ga. 542, 544, 814 S.E.2d 324 (2018).15 OCGA § 9-3-99.16 The language was added to the......
  • 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