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October 12, 2022

SCOTUS seemingly split over 1983 suit timelines for high-profile Texas death row defendant claiming innocence

Rodney Reed has been on death row in Texas for over two decades based on his conviction for raping and murdering a teenager back in 1996. Reed has always maintained his innocence, but it is a procedural issue that brought his case before the Supreme Court and seemed to divide the Justices. Amy Howe's SCOTUSblog analysis of the argument, "Justices wrestle with statute of limitations in Rodney Reed’s effort to revive DNA lawsuit," provides a great review that starts this way:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard the case of a Texas death-row inmate seeking DNA testing for evidence that he believes will clear him. A federal appeals court threw out Rodney Reed’s federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law governing DNA testing, explaining that Reed had filed his suit too late. Although several justices on Tuesday appeared ready to reject the deadline imposed by the lower court, there was no clear consensus around an alternative rule – and Reed’s lawsuit would still be too late under one of the options that the justices debated.

The full argument transcript in Reed v. Goertz is available at this link.  And here are a few press accounts of the argument:

From Law360, "Comity Takes Center Stage In High Court DNA Testing Case"

From Reuters, "U.S. Supreme Court mulls Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed's DNA testing bid"

October 12, 2022 at 09:00 AM | Permalink


I look at this through the lens of the federal habeas statutes.

Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court views direct review as ending with either the denial of certiorari (not the motion for rehearing) or the expiration of time to seek further review with no action taken (either the original notice of appeal, the motion for rehearing in the intermediate appellate court, the motion for discretionary review in the state high court, or the petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court). While the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed when collateral review ends (probably because of the diversity of state rules makes it harder to draft a one side fits all), I have always thought that, logically, a similar rule should apply (i.e. that it is the expiration of time to seek further review rather than the formal entry of the mandate -- often several days later -- that ends the collateral review process).

I don't see any good reason to not apply a similar rule to state DNA laws. Thus to me, of the three dates currently being debated -- the issuance of the original opinion, the denial of any motion for rehearing, and the mandate -- the denial of the motion for rehearing seems the most logical date for the start of the running of the statute of limitations for a 1983 claim.

Posted by: tmm | Oct 12, 2022 10:37:46 AM

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