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April 27, 2005

AEDPA ruling from SCOTUS today

Because I am not a habeas or AEDPA guru, I am not sure of the broad significance of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling today in Pace v. DiGuglielmo, which held, in the words of Lyle Denniston here at SCOTUSblog, that a "post-conviction claim filed in state court, found by a state court to be out of time, does not stop the running of the time for filing a federal habeas petition under AEDPA."  I am inclined to speculate that this ruling (which was authored by the Chief Justice and divided the Court along its "traditional" conservative/liberal lines) could possibly impact when and how some state defendants can bring Blakely claims or other challenges to state sentencing practices in federal court. 

I hope commentors might explain whether Pace is consequential, though I will quote from Justice Stevens' dissent (with citations omitted) which sets out his view of the case's impact:

[T]he most likely consequence of the Court's new rule will be to increase, not reduce, delays in the federal system. The inevitable result of today's decision will be a flood of protective filings in the federal district courts.... The Court admits that this type of protective filing will result from its holding. I fail to see any merit in a rule that knowingly and unnecessarily adds to the burdens on the district courts in a way that simple tolling would not.

April 27, 2005 at 10:36 AM | Permalink

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It's important to keep the procedural history of this case in mind, and the consequences for the AEDPA statute of limiitations. Once the state trial court denied his post-conviction petition as untimely, he sought review of that decision at every level, including the state supreme court. Once he'd exhausted all those remedies, he filed his federal habeas petition. In essence, the Court in Pace held that he was wasting his time by seeking reconsideration of the decision that state PCR was untimely. He should have proceeded immediately to federal habeas, the Court held.

But now Pace is in a catch-22. If he had gone immediately to federal habeas court once the state trial court ruled his PCR petition was untimely, he would have had to overcome both exhaustion and procedural default in federal court in order to obtain review of his claims on the merits. He would not have presented his claim to the highest court in the state (see Baldwin v. Reese), and the state courts would have relied on a state procedural rule in rejecting his PCR petition (see Coleman v. Thompson). If he filed his federal habeas petition within AEDPA's statute of limitations, he would be barred from merits review because of lack of exhaustion and procedural default. If he exhausted his claims properly, the Court tells us that he would be barred from relief because AEDPA's statute of limitations doesn't stop running if you file your original state PCR petition out of time.

Contrary to what the Pace majority thinks, the stay-and-abey procedure approved a couple of weeks ago in Rhines v. Weber would not save Pace either. To use this, Pace would have to file his federal habeas petition with both exhausted (if any) and unexhausted claims, then immediately ask the federal habeas court to hold up the proceedings while he returns to state court to exhaust the unexhausted claims. Under the Rhines procedure, the district court has discretion to use the stay-and-abey procedure. It may choose not to exercise that discretion when the habeas petitioner can't show "good cause" for failing to exhaust the claims in the first place. I seriously doubt filing a state PCR petition out of time would constitute "good cause." So Justice Stevens' concern about increasing delay in federal habeas proceedings is justified.

The Pace Court has a stern warning for those who ultimately seek federal habeas review of their convictions and sentences - small missteps in state court will keep you out of federal court, because the AEDPA statute of limitations will continue to run even if you are diligent in pursuing your remedies in state court. Tread carefully.

keith hilzendeger
law clerk
capital habeas unit
federal public defender
district of arizona

Posted by: keith | Apr 28, 2005 4:02:08 PM

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