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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Inmate Is Out of Time & Out of Luck, Justices Say

(CN) - A Texas man convicted of murder cannot seek habeas relief because he missed the one-year window to file, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Rafael Arriaza Gonzalez was sentenced to 30 years in prison in July 2005 for murder. The Texas appeals court affirmed the conviction the following year. In 2007, the court dismissed Gonzalez's habeas claim because it found he failed to comply with state appellate rules, and the court dismissed his second claim nine months later.

Two months after that, in February 2008, Gonzalez petitioned the District Court for habeas review, but a magistrate judge rejected the petition as time-barred, concluding that the inmate had one year from the time when Texas rejected his first attempt at writ of habeas corpus in July 2006.

Gonzalez argued that the clock should have started when the mandate was issued in his case September 2006, but the District Court refused and the 5th Circuit affirmed.

In agreeing to take up the appeal, the Supreme Court said it would answer whether there was "jurisdiction to issue a certificate of appealability ... and to adjudicate petitioner's appeal," and whether the courts should run the statute of limitations to "the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review"?

The justices sided with the state on Tuesday. "We hold that, for a state prisoner who does not seek review in a state's highest court, the judgment be­comes 'final' on the date that the time for seeking such review expires," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the majority.

Justice Antonin Scalia criticized his colleagues, however, for making "hash of the statute."

"The obvious, undeniable, purpose of 28 U. S. C. §2253(c) is to spare three-judge courts of appeals the trouble of entertaining (and the prosecution the trouble of defending against) appeals from the denials of relief in habeas and §2255 proceedings, unless a district or circuit judge has identified an issue on which the applicant has made a substantial showing of a constitutional violation," Scalia wrote. "Where no such constitutional issue has been identified, an appeal on other, nonconstitutional, issues (such as the statute of limitations issue that the court decides today) will not lie.

"Today's opinion transforms this into a provision that allows appeal so long as a district or circuit judge, for whatever reason or for no reason at all, approves it," he continued. "This makes a hash of the statute. The opinion thinks this alchemy required by the court's previously expressed desire to '"bring some discipline" to the use of the term "jurisdictional."' If that is true, discipline has become a code word for eliminating incon­venient statutory limits on our jurisdiction."

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