Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Discussion of Cullen results in habeas grant reversal

Jackson v. Kelly, Nos. 10-1, 10-3 (4th Cir. Apr. 25, 2011):

The Fourth Circuit has cited the recent Supreme Court decision of Cullen v. Pinholster twice now:  Once in the Tice case, in a footnote, and now in Jackson v. Kelly, which was handed down yesterday (see No. 10-1).  Cullen requires a federal court reviewing a 2254 petition, in making a 2254(d)(1) determination, to limit its review to the record that was before the state court that adjudicated the claim on the merits.  In other words, when a habeas petitioner’s claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal court is precluded from supplementing the record with facts adduced for the first time at a federal evidentiary hearing to determine whether the state court's adjudication was unreasonable or contrary to federal law.

In Jackson, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied habeas relief in a death-penalty case.  The E.D. Va. (Brinkema, J.) conducted an evidentiary hearing, deemed the Supreme Court of Virginia's factual finding "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence," and granted habeas relief.  The Fourth Circuit, invoking Cullen, limited its own review only to the facts presented in the state court, and thus did not consider any of the federal evidentiary hearing.

The district court did not have the benefit of Cullen's guidance when it determined that an evidentiary hearing was warranted.  It is now clear, however, that the district court's reliance on material developed at the federal evidentiary hearing was at odds with AEDPA's placement of "primary responsibility [for habeas review] with the state courts."

Importantly, the district court improperly assessed the potency or genuineness of the mitigation evidence before the state court.  Instead, the district court should have assessed the existence of such evidence and attempted to determined whether such evidence was a refutation by clear and convincing evidence of the Supreme Court of Virginia's factual conclusion.

The Fourth Circuit concluded that the state court’s finding that petitioner had not shown prejudice was not "clearly unreasonable" and that the district court erred by holding otherwise.  The Fourth Circuit determined that the writ of habeas corpus was "improvidently granted."

Commencement of Statute of Limitations:  Petitioner filed his oversized habeas petition with the Supreme Court of Virginia, along with a motion to file an oversized petition.  SCV denied, and ordered him to submit an appropriately sized petition.  A month later, Petitioner filed a smaller petition.  The Fourth Circuit holds that the SOL begins running from the original filing.  The oversized petition was a "properly filed application" because it was neither rejected nor dismissed by the SCV.  Instead, petitioner was directed to file a "corrected petition" in a timely manner.  The SCV's emphasis on "correction" indicates that the requested alteration constituted an amendment to petitioner's initial filing.

Equitable Tolling in Reliance on EDVA's Extension Grant.  The EDVA granted a stay of execution and granted petitioner an extension of time to file his 2254.  The EDVA granted him the extension to file his 2254 until the day that the one-year SOL would have run from the original (oversized) filing.  Petitioner relied on the EDVA's grant of the extension when timing the submission of his 2254.  The Fourth Circuit holds that even if the government is correct that petitioner's oversized petition was not "properly filed," petitioner would be entitled to equitable tolling (due to reliance on the EDVA's extension).

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