9th Cir. Ends Habeas Confusion in California

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Overruling a 1995 decision, the en banc Ninth Circuit on Tuesday held that a man convicted of two misdemeanors for driving under the influence of alcohol filed an untimely habeas petition but may be entitled to a break.
     A federal judge dismissed Brian McMonagle’s petition as untimely under Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, but the circuit reviewed the decision since “this timeliness inquiry is complicated by the overlap of California’s procedures for direct review of misdemeanors” as well as by the circuit’s own ruling in Larche v. Simons, which required California misdemeanants to exhaust their state remedies by filing a habeas petition with the California Supreme Court.
     The circuit overruled Larche, finding that it creates “needless confusion for California misdemeanants seeking federal habeas review.”
     McMonagle argued Larche dictated that direct review of his conviction ended when the California Supreme Court rejected his habeas petition, not when the state appellate court declined to accept transfer of his case, so his 2011 petition was within the act’s one-year statute of limitations.
     But McMonagle’s conviction became final for the act’s purposes on May 12, 2010 – the close of the 90-day period in which he could have sought a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court – so his petition was untimely by almost two months, the circuit ruled.
     And Larche should be overruled because that case was decided before the act put in place a statute of limitations for federal habeas petitions, and the case “thus unsurprisingly discusses only exhaustion,” Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote.
     But she said that the circuit’s conclusion that McMonagle’s petition was filed late “does not end our inquiry,” and the circuit remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether McMonagle is entitled to equitable tolling.
     Charles Bonneau, who represented McMonagle told Courthouse News the Ninth Circuit’s ruling “will have a positive effect on many misdemeanor defendants, who are no longer required to petition to the California Supreme Court before seeking habeas corpus relief in Federal Court.” He added, “The Larche rule, which we complied with, was always a trap for the unwary. At the same time, the Ninth Circuit has made an exception for my client because we relied on the Larche rule. So we are very happy with today’s result. We will now be permitted to argue the merits of our case in the district court.”

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