Gonzalez v. Thaler
565 U.S. ___ (2012)

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Justia Opinion Summary
This case interpreted two provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, (AEDPA). The first, 28 U.S.C. 2253(c), provided that a habeas petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal a federal district court's final order in a habeas proceeding (section 2253(c)(1)). The COA could issue only if the petitioner had made a "substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right" (section 2253(c)(2)), and "shall indicate which specific issue" satisfied that showing (section 2253(c)(3)). The Court held that section 2253(c)(3) was not a jurisdictional requirement. Accordingly, a judge's failure to "indicate" the requisite constitutional issue in a COA did not deprive a court of appeals of subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the habeas petitioner's appeal. The second provision, 28 U.S.C. 2244(d)(1)(A), established a 1-year limitations period for state prisoners to file federal habeas petitions, running from "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 Court held that, for a state prisoner who did not seek review in a State's highest court, the judgment became "final" on the date that the time for seeking such review expired.

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

GONZALEZ v. THALER, DIRECTOR, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTIONS DIVISION

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 10–895. Argued November 2, 2011—Decided January 10, 2012

After the intermediate state appellate court affirmed his state-court conviction, petitioner Gonzalez allowed his time for seeking discretionary review with the State’s highest court for criminal appeals to expire. Roughly six weeks later, the intermediate state appellate court issued its mandate. When Gonzalez subsequently sought federal habeas relief, the District Court dismissed Gonzalez’s petition as time barred by the 1-year statute of limitations in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Under 28 U. S. C. §2244(d)(1)(A), state prisoners have one year to file federal habeas petitions running from “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 District Court held that Gonzalez’s judgment had become “final” when his time for seeking discretionary review in the State’s highest court expired, and that running the limitations period from that date, his petition was untimely.

          Under AEDPA, a habeas petitioner must obtain a certificate of appealability (COA) to appeal a district court’s final order in a habeas proceeding. 28 U. S. C. §2253(c)(1). The COA may issue only if the petitioner has made a “substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right,” §2253(c)(2), and “shall indicate which specific issue” satisfies that showing, §2253(c)(3). A Fifth Circuit judge granted Gonzalez a COA on the question whether his petition was timely. The issued COA, however, failed to “indicate” a constitutional issue.

          The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that Gonzalez’s petition was untimely because the limitations period begins to run for petitioners who fail to appeal to a State’s highest court when the time for seeking further direct review in the state court expires. The Fifth Circuit did not mention, and the State did not raise, the §2253(c)(3) defect. When Gonzalez petitioned this Court for review, the State argued for the first time that the Fifth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate Gonzalez’s appeal based on the §2253(c)(3) defect.

Held:

     1. Section 2253(c)(3) is a mandatory but nonjurisdictional rule. A COA’s failure to “indicate” a constitutional issue does not deprive a Court of Appeals of jurisdiction to adjudicate the appeal. Pp. 4−13.

          (a) A rule is jurisdictional “[i]f the Legislature clearly states that a threshold limitation on a statute’s scope shall count as jurisdictional,” Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U. S. 500 . Here, the only clear jurisdictional language in §2253(c) appears in §2253(c)(1). The parties agree that §2253(c)(1)’s plain terms make the issuance of a COA a jurisdictional prerequisite. The parties also agree that §2253(c)(2), which speaks only to when a COA may issue and does not contain §2253(c)(1)’s jurisdictional terms, is nonjurisdictional. It follows that §2253(c)(3) is also nonjurisdictional. Like §2253(c)(2), it reflects a threshold condition for issuing a COA, and “does not speak in jurisdictional terms or refer . . . to the jurisdiction of the [appeals] courts.” Arbaugh, 546 U. S., at 515. Jurisdictional treatment also would thwart Congress’s intent in AEDPA “to eliminate delays in the federal habeas review process.” Holland v. Florida, 560 U. S. ___, ___. Once a judge has determined that a COA is warranted and resources are deployed in briefing and argument, the COA has fulfilled its gatekeeping function. Pp. 4−9.

          (b) The State’s contrary arguments are unpersuasive. Section 2253(c)(3)’s cross-reference to §2253(c)(1) does not mean §2253(c)(3) can be read as part of §2253(c)(1), as Congress set off the requirements in distinct paragraphs with distinct terms. The word “shall” in §2253(c)(3), meanwhile, underscores the rule’s mandatory nature, but not all mandatory rules are jurisdictional. Nor does §2253(c)(3)’s mere proximity to other jurisdictional provisions turn a rule that speaks in nonjurisdictional terms into a jurisdictional hurdle. Finally, the Court rejects the State’s attempt to analogize a COA to a notice of appeal. Pp. 10−13.

     2. For a state prisoner who does not seek review in a State’s highest court, the judgment becomes “final” for purposes of §2244(d)(1)(A) on the date that the time for seeking such review expires. Pp. 13−19.

          (a) In Clay v. United States, 537 U. S. 522 , the Court held that a federal conviction becomes final “when this Court affirms a conviction on the merits on direct review or denies a petition for a writ of certiorari,” or, if a petitioner does not seek certiorari, “when the time for filing a certiorari petition expires.” Id., at 527. In Jimenez v. Quarterman, 555 U. S. 113 , the Court adopted Clay’s “most natural reading of the statutory text” in construing “the similar language of §2244(d)(1)(A).” Id., at 119. The Court made no mention of when Jimenez’s appeal concluded and held that his judgment became final when his time for seeking certiorari expired. Section 2244(d)(1)(A) thus consists of two prongs corresponding to two categories of petitioners. For petitioners pursuing direct review all the way to this Court, the judgment becomes final at the “conclusion of direct review,” when this Court affirms a conviction on the merits or denies certiorari. For all other petitioners, the judgment becomes final at the “expiration of the time for seeking such review,” when the time for pursuing direct review in this Court, or in state court, expires. Because Gonzalez did not appeal to the State’s highest court, his judgment became final when his time for seeking review with that court expired. Pp. 13–15.

          (b) Gonzalez argues that courts should determine both prongs for every petitioner who does not seek certiorari, then start the 1-year clock from the latest of the two dates. Gonzalez further contends that when a petitioner does not seek certiorari, state law should define the “conclusion of direct review.” The words “latest of,” however, appear in §2244(d)(1), not §2244(d)(1)(A). Nothing in §2244(d)(1)(A) contemplates any conflict between the two prongs or instructs that the later of the two shall prevail. Gonzalez’s approach of scouring each State’s laws and cases to determine how the State defines finality, moreover, would contradict the uniform meaning of “conclusion of direct review” that Clay and Jimenez accepted. It will be a rare situation in which a delay in the mandate’s issuance is so severe as to prevent a petitioner from filing a federal habeas petition within a year or requesting a stay and abeyance. Finally, the Court rejects Gonzalez’s alternative argument that his petition is timely because it was filed within a year of when his time for seeking certiorari review expired. Pp. 15−19.

623 F. 3d 222, affirmed.

     Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

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