Peeved 9th Demands Clarity on Calif. Habeas Deadlines

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A frustrated Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court to clarify the state’s deadline for prisoners to appeal lower-court habeas corpus denials, an issue that “absorbs court resources and frustrates prisoners.”
     Julius M. Robinson is appealing a Federal Court ruling that found 66 days was an “unreasonable” period for him to appeal a California Supreme Court decision denying his habeas petition.
     Robinson filed habeas corpus petitions in state and federal courts in 2012 and 2013 after he was found guilty of premeditated murder and malicious discharge of a firearm with gun and gang enhancements in Sacramento Superior Court in 2009, according to the Ninth Circuit’s July 28 certification order.
     Unlike most states that specify deadlines for filing habeas appeals by statute, California has a “unique system” that says appeals must be filed “within a reasonable time,” according to the order.
     The petition cites Evans v. Chavis as establishing that California’s “reasonable-time standard would not lead to filing delays substantially longer than” between 30 and 60 days.
     But problems arise when state courts dismiss prisoners’ habeas petitions without comment or discussion the timeliness of the filing. Prisoners then file petitions for review in federal courts that are forced to make their own determinations on the timeliness of the original petitions – with no guidance from the state at all, the unsigned order said.
     “The question of what constitutes filing within a reasonable time under California law has arisen in over 500 district court cases in this circuit since Chavis was decided, and in over 250 since the California Supreme Court last denied our request for certification of this question,” the order said.
     Robinson’s case emphasizes the importance of clarifying the murky deadline, since underestimating the permissible delay period could deprive state prisoners of the federal review process to which they are entitled, the appeals court said.
     Meanwhile, overestimating the “reasonable” time period could discourage prompt filings and force the court to “hear stale claims,” the court added.
     Robinson’s appeal was argued and submitted to the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on June 11 before Circuit Judges Mary Schroeder and Sandra Ikuta, along with U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright of Hawaii.
     The question certified to the California high court asks, “When a state habeas petitioner has no good cause for delay, at what point in time is that state prisoner’s petition, filed in a California
     court of review to challenge a lower state court’s disposition of the prisoner’s claims, untimely under California law; specifically, is a habeas petition untimely filed after an unexplained 66-day delay between the time a California trial court denies the petition and the time the petition is filed in the California Court of Appeal?”
     Neither Robinson’s attorney, federal defender Heather Williams, nor the California Attorney General’s Office immediately returned requests for comment.

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